NewsPositively San Diego


San Diego shelter helps man after sudden death of Navy daughter

Posted at 6:37 AM, May 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-09 10:46:00-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Homelessness is a major topic of discussion right now, but one thing not discussed as much is what many of the unsheltered have in common. Experts say it's trauma.

One local father experienced tremendous trauma when his beloved Navy daughter was killed in a high-profile accident. George Peterson recalled the day he found out what happened.

“They came and knocked on my window because I was sleeping in my truck and told me that Sarah was missing.”

A sad memory for George who lost his daughter, Hospital Corpsman Sarah Burns, in August 2021. She was 31 years old.

“That helicopter, from what I understand, started to vibrate so much. They tried to land on the deck. And when they did it flipped on its side, and one of the rotors caught the deck and flipped it off the side of the aircraft carrier.”

That carrier was USS Abraham Lincoln, 60 miles off the coast of San Diego. An investigation would later determine it was mechanical failure. Sarah and four other crew members died.

“Sarah, yeah, she's one of my twin daughters,” George says, visibly overcome with grief. “Very smart, very like a tomboy. I used to call her my little me. And she, she was not afraid to do anything. I was so proud of her when she joined the Navy.”

George described the downward spiral that began after Sarah passed away.

It was hard for me to do anything. It was hard for me to focus on anything and nothing was important to me, like the minivan, I didn't pay the bill to San Diego so they went and repossessed it.”

George says Sarah bought him that van. She had been the anchor that helped keep his life from going adrift. Without her, he needed a lifeline.

“I mean, I was homeless at Ocean Beach.”

That is until the outreach team at La Posada de Guadalupe Shelter in Carlsbad found him.

“They brought me up here, it's divine intervention,” George remembers.

When asked what his favorite part of the shelter is, George said without hesitation, the people.

“The people here overwhelm me with their kindness and their help. I mean, they'd bend over backwards to help me.”

That help includes 100 beds and full wrap-around services for men, including all meals, laundry, counseling and case management. La Posada is part of Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego. CEO Vino Pajanor says George represents what most of the men here have faced.

“What George shows to us today is that something happened in their life at some point in time, and that triggered events that led them to be unhoused," says Vino.

So the first goal is to address the trauma, otherwise they could end up right back here.

Vino says he is very hopeful about George’s future.

“When he is emotionally prepared, and then he's got everything lined up and we are able to identify housing for him, I think George will be able to get to a place where he can say San Diego is my home and I'm close to my daughter Sarah.”

George keeps Sarah close on a dog tag with her picture on it that he wears around his neck. She was laid to rest at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma. George says he finds strength in knowing Sarah won't be forgotten.

“Her sister said, 'You know, she's our guardian angel.' Her sister Micah, she was pregnant and had a baby, a baby girl and they named her after her sister. So I still have Sarah, but as a grandchild now.”

George says La Posada has helped him with Social Security and that they'll help him secure a job, so when he's ready, he can move into permanent housing.

Vino says there are plans to nearly double the number of beds to 200 in the next two years and add even more for women with children.