By Elizabeth Klinge

SACRAMENTO(CBS13) — A local veteran is celebrating this Veterans Day in a place of his own after more than 30 years of homelessness living along the American River.

John David Chapman’s descent into homeless started more than 30 years ago, returning from serving in Vietnam, and it almost ended in Stage 4 liver failure.

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“When you’re homeless for years and years, you don’t see no light at the end of the tunnel, ya know,” Chapman said. “I went to the hospital and they told me ‘you messed up, ya know, you’re dying’ and scared the hell out of me. So I quit doing drugs that day. I won’t even take an aspirin.”

Today life looks a lot different. He’s living clean and sober in a house of his own instead of along the banks of the American River.

Chapman has made the transition to life indoors with the help of Sacramento’s Volunteers of America.

“Our staff just continued to reach out to him see what kind of needs he had slowly coaxed him off the river. He just didn’t trust anybody,” Christie Holderegger with Volunteers of America said.

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The nonprofit has worked to house more than 360 veterans just this year, in spite of the added challenges of the pandemic.

But it’s a transition that can be slow and emotional. Chapman slept in a tent in his bedroom for months.

“It went from wall to wall and I had camo netting hanging in here and that’s the only way I could sleep,” he said.

Now he’s hoping to help others rest easier by working as a volunteer with the organization, and in a way, serving his country once again.

John David Chapman sitting outside his new home.

“That’s the only thing that has ever helped me since I’ve been out of the service. Above and beyond what anybody else has ever done for me ever, ever,” Chapman said.

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One in five homeless people in the United States is a veteran. Volunteers of America says the pandemic has actually helped in a way, creating more housing to help.

Elizabeth Klinge