The year 2011 is ending on a very good note for Clarence O. Rounds, the Buffalo man who spent eight years living in an underground bunker he dug on railroad property.
After The Buffalo News ran a story on Rounds' situation Monday, a generous reader stepped up to pay a $590 security deposit that Rounds needed to move into an apartment that will be paid for under a U.S. Veterans Affairs program to assist homeless veterans.
Another reader gave Rounds $590 to buy furniture and household items.
He also learned that -- for the next three months -- he'll have some part-time work at the Buffalo VA hospital, also under the auspices of a federal program to help veterans.
With help from his VA caseworker, the 51-year-old Rounds moved into his new Buffalo apartment in the Elmwood Village neighborhood Thursday.
"I can't believe how well I slept last night," Rounds said Friday. "So much better than sleeping underground."
Rounds, an Army veteran who has suffered from alcoholism and psychiatric problems, is believed to be one of hundreds of homeless veterans who have lived on the streets of Buffalo in recent years.
Over the past two decades, he lived in cardboard boxes, tents made out of plastic tarps, an old supermarket trailer and -- most notably -- in the underground bunker that he dug and fortified on wooded railroad land in Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood.
Rounds spent most of eight years -- from 2001 until 2009 -- in the bunker, leaving after teenage thugs assaulted him, harassed him and twice set fire to the bunker and all his meager possessions.
In May and June of 2007, Rounds got some national publicity after The News wrote about his bunker home, and other media outlets picked up the story of a homeless vet living off the grids of government and society.
After several rough years, Rounds again was located by The News last week at a residence for homeless veterans in East Pembroke. The Genesee County facility is operated by the not-for-profit Loyola Recovery Foundation.
In the story published Monday, Rounds said he was anxiously awaiting a move to an apartment off Elmwood Avenue, but first had to come up with a $590 security deposit.
Six different News readers contacted either Rounds or the newspaper, offering to pay the security deposit.
Several readers said they were extremely upset to read that thugs had picked on Rounds and other homeless people.
"I can't believe there are people in this world who are completely void of human compassion," one reader emailed The News. "The homeless face a mountain of challenges just surviving day to day, without having to face the cowardice and cruel acts of thugs."
Rounds said he wants people to know that, although he has experienced violence and cruelty, he has met far more people who went out of their way to help him.
"I've met people who gave me food, let me take showers in their homes, helped me with my paperwork for social services and gave me odd jobs," Rounds said. "I've had a lot of churches help me, too. I met more good people than bad."
But he also added that life on the streets can be brutal, difficult and hazardous to one's physical and mental health, especially when alcohol or drugs are part of the picture.
An Amherst man who asked to remain anonymous paid the $590 security deposit on Wednesday. Another reader, who also wanted to remain anonymous, gave Rounds an additional $590 after learning the security deposit had already been paid.
"I was in a tough personal situation years ago, and someone stepped up and helped me out of it," the Amherst man said. "So by helping Clarence, I feel like I'm giving back."
In addition to the VA, Rounds has also received help from a program for veterans run by Belmont Housing Resources for Western New York.
"I'm using [the extra $590] to buy some used furniture and things I need for the apartment," Rounds said. "I can't tell people how much I appreciate the help."
Rounds has three New Year's resolutions for 2012 -- to find more work after the VA job, to stay out of trouble and, most of all, to stay sober.
"I haven't had a drink in more than four months, and I want to stay that way," Rounds said. "Drinking has been the cause of a lot of my problems."