Carl Coe sits inside his apartment and explains that when he and his dog, Champ, were homeless they never liked having ants crawling on them when sleeping.
“We’d have to get out of our sleeping bag and try to shake it out without knocking down our tent,” he said as his 8-year-old canine buddy slept in the easy chair beside him. “When it’s cold in the desert, that’s no fun.”
It’s noon Friday at the Judith Villas Apartments near Carey Avenue and Interstate 15 in North Las Vegas as Coe recounts how he and Champ stopped sleeping in a large desert lot after they were featured in a Review-Journal story in March.
His memories don’t come easy. A beating by an unknown assailant long ago left him partially brain damaged and unable to work. His words don’t flow. They nearly drown in drool.
“I met two angels who didn’t want me and Champ to live on the street any more,” said Coe, 49, who receives $670 a month in Social Security disability.
Those angels are Joe Schmitt and Lesbia Thomas, who helped Coe get a roof over his head and do some everyday tasks.
A couple of years ago the frail Army veteran who served in Korea during peacetime thought he’d get off the street by his own means. But the Salvation Army apartments for the chronically homeless he visited wouldn’t accept a dog over 20 pounds.
Champ, a mixed breed seasoned heavily with mastiff, weighs close to 100 pounds.
Coe chose to stay on the street with his best friend.
When the Review-Journal contacted the Salvation Army, a property manager for the apartments said it was possible that Champ could get classified as a “service animal” because of Coe’s emotional need for the animal and that the 20-pound limit could be waived.
Schmitt, a Vietnam veteran, read the story and contacted Coe. Champ was designated a service animal by Veterans Administration medical authorities.
“I started driving Carl around to the VA and other places in hopes of getting him and Champ an apartment because I think our veterans deserve better than living on the street,” said Schmitt, 61, a locksmith at Bellagio.
Coe decided he liked the look of the Judith Villas Apartments, not far from the desert lot where he once slept outside.
He also liked Thomas, the property manager who was willing to pull strings to get him in.
“He really didn’t make enough money … but we were able to waive that,” Thomas said. “And once Champ was classified as a service animal there was no trouble there. Champ is as nice as he can be.”
Coe and Champ moved into a one-bedroom apartment on May 1. The $510 monthly rent, plus a monthly electrical bill of around $80, comes out of his disability check. Food comes largely through food stamps.
“Food is not really a problem because I can always go out behind grocery stores or restaurants and get that,” he said. “I’m used to it.”
Schmitt bought Coe some used furniture, which he brought to the apartment on Thursday.
Coe is visibly moved as he talks about Schmitt and Thomas. He also appreciates the strangers who dropped off clothes for him and dog food for Champ.
“They didn’t even know me and they helped me and Champ,” he said. “We’ve been blessed. I didn’t want to die outside. I’m surprised I’ve lived this long. I wish I could thank everybody, but I don’t know how.”
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at email@example.com or 702-387-2908.