Disabled veterans left homeless after arson attack in Mississippi
John Russelman was getting ready for work before dawn when he saw a bright light through the window and realized that a fire was raging in his Biloxi building.
Russelman didn’t know it then, but he was the victim of arson. Biloxi police determined the fire was started deliberately.
The November 15 fire destroyed the building and upended the lives of the three disabled veterans living at the Rodenberg Apartments, who lost virtually all of their possessions, the Sun Herald reported. None of the residents had rental insurance, so they could not be compensated for what they had lost.
More than two months later, the three men still do not know when they will find a home.
Russelman estimates he lost between $2,500 and $5,000 worth of property, including two televisions.
After the fire, the Red Cross issued the three displaced residents with credit cards loaded with $500 each, and the Department of Veterans Affairs temporarily housed them for less than a week at an extended-stay hotel in D’Iberville. .
After that, they were offered housing at a Salvation Army shelter in downtown Mobile, Alabama, where Russelman lives today. Another veteran, Mike King, left for the Midwest. The third displaced veteran was unable to stay at The Salvation Army due to its lack of wheelchair accessibility, so he moved to other transitional housing in Mobile, where he remained for most of of the month of January.
At the Salvation Army shelter, Russelman shares a room with three other former Marines.
“I love the neighborhood because of the old houses and stuff, walking around,” he said, adding that the food was good. But the facility houses about 30 long-term residents and admits up to 30 more for an overnight stay on a cold night.
King has moved back to Illinois and lives with his ex-wife and their two daughters. He is now a two-hour drive from the nearest VA facility. At Rodenberg Apartments, he was only a mile from Biloxi VA and could take an Uber or ride with a friend when he needed medical assistance.
For now, Russelman is awaiting news from the VA regarding a new apartment.