A team of veterans from Boothbay’s American Legion Post is on a mission to create temporary housing for homeless veterans in Maine.
Ed Harmon created the Veterans Emergency Temporary Shelter project — VETS — with fellow Legionnaires John Hargreaves and Arthur Richardson. The project turns small cargo trailers into shelters for veterans who need immediate assistance.
There are about 109 homeless veterans in Maine, Harmon said, but the project is focusing its efforts on creating 12 to 13 trailers.
Verification of veteran status can delay governmental assistance to homeless veterans, and Harmon said his group was inspired by the story of a veteran in Brunswick who died of exposure while sleeping under a bridge.
“We were told there was no answer to this problem,” Harmon said. “There is always a solution. There’s no obstacle we’ve come across that we can’t overcome.”
David Patch, commander of the Charles E. Sherman Jr. American Legion Post 36, said VETS will house anyone who claims to be a veteran, no questions asked.
“If we find out later that they weren’t a veteran, the worst thing we did was help someone in need,” Patch said.
“It’s a simple solution to a chronic problem,” Harmon said. “The only drawback is getting money to get them (the trailers) here.”
Waiving the verification requirement means veterans find shelter more quickly, but prevents the project from qualifying for government funding.
One woman donated $10,000 to the cause, with one request — she wanted to decorate the shelters with bedding and curtains. Each shelter is decorated with different patterns to make it feel more personal.
Thanks to donations of materials from Hancock Lumber, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Seacoast Hardwood, the team was able to make each shelter for about $5,000. Without donated materials, the cost would be closer to $8,000.
Each shelter measures 7 feet wide by 10 feet long, with insulated walls and waterproof floors. The door and open floor space are big enough to fit a wheelchair, though the trailers do not have ramps. Shelters are equipped with a bed, microwave, fridge, commode, and propane heater.
The trailers have two propane tanks on the side and a plug on the back for charging. They also have a ventilation panel on the ceiling that filters air without letting heat escape.
The shelters are at 752 Wiscasset Road in Boothbay, but can be brought to locations elsewhere in the state.
The team at VETS said the most important thing now is making people aware of the project. Four shelters have been completed over a period of about four months, and they want anyone who knows a homeless veteran to know there is a solution available.
Funding remains an obstacle. The group is $7,000 shy of ordering four more trailers.
VETS hopes to obtain 501(c)(3) status soon, which will make donations to the organization tax-deductible. In the meantime, anyone who wants to donate can do so through the American Legion Foundation and specify that the check is for the VETS project at Post 36. Checks can be mailed to The American Legion National Headquarters, 700 North Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, IN 46204.
Patch said he wants to help any veteran he can, no matter who they are.
“I don’t care if a person served for three days or had a dishonorable discharge,” Patch said. “If they were brave enough to raise their right hand and put their life on the line for our country, that’s good enough for me.”
(Correction: An earlier version of this article online and on the front page of the Oct. 22 edition reported, based on information from VETS, that the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services will not provide services to veterans until it can verify veteran status and that the story of a homeless veteran who died of exposure while waiting for governmental assistance inspired VETS. The Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services did not respond to interview requests prior to publication of the article. After publication, Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services Director David Richmond said the bureau can verify veteran status immediately if a veteran is in its case management program and he has authority to waive verification to assist someone he believes is a veteran. He said the bureau was not contacted regarding assistance for the Brunswick veteran.)