Watch CBS News

Formerly homeless Peninsula man helps others get off the streets, furnishes their homes

Formerly homeless Peninsula man helps others get off the streets, furnishes their homes 03:28

SAN CARLOS (CBS SF) -- A San Mateo man has helped hundreds of formerly homeless military veterans turn their new apartments into comfortable homes.

Vietnam veteran Roger Yarborough lived in a tent for five years until he moved into his own apartment at Mercy Housing's Veterans Village in Colma. That day, John Helin gave him a TV, loveseat, and more.

"That was one of the nicest things that happened to me in my entire life," Yarborough said.

Over the past four years, Helin has provided free, gently-used furniture for more than 500 military veterans who used to be homeless. He runs his own moving company, and he fills 16,000 square feet of donated space in a San Carlos warehouse with furniture people have donated.

Helin works with veterans administration offices to reach clients in need.

"They gave their life for my country, and they're living on the street. It just doesn't sit right with me," said Helin.                

Helin lives a life of service, driven by his own transformation: he started doing drugs at age 12. Decades later, he found faith and recovery at Central Peninsula Church in Foster City. Today, he's 12 years sober.                

"My life changed. And now I serve God, He keeps me sober," Helin said.                

He joined a church group serving veterans, then grew his own ministry.

Belinda Payne was touched when Helin filled her new apartment with items including a TV and sofa. The Navy vet had spent a decade bouncing between living in her car and various shelters.

"It makes my heart feel really sweet inside knowing that John is still doing what he did three years ago for me," Payne said.

VA social worker Jeff Grubler helps house chronically homeless veterans. He says Helin is so compassionate and committed, he can only remember once when Helin couldn't respond promptly. It was because he could not.                

"He called from his hospital bed apologizing, saying, 'I'll get you furniture tomorrow for your veteran.' So he's a man on a mission," said Grubler. "He doesn't just talk. He makes it happen.                

Helin also throws parties for veterans, like one last Christmas with dinner, two Santas, and gifts for all. Over Easter, he and volunteers gave thousands of donated candy bags and prayer cards to homeless folks in San Francisco's Tenderloin.                

And soon, Helin is scheduled to furnish 18 veterans' apartments at a new Gateway affordable housing development in Millbrae. 

"It's basically my fourth quarter of life, and it's the way I'm going to finish: helping others," Helin said.

So for providing home furnishing and support for military veterans, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to John Helin.

Helin needs more volunteers to serve more homeless veterans. Those wanting to help can reach out to his organization at

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.