CORINNA, Maine — The unlikely trio of a trucker from Down East, a sawmill operator from eastern Maine and a homeless man from Massachusetts are conspiring to start a business that they hope will change their lives for the better.
Raymond Brouillet, of Templeton, Mass., has been homeless for most of the past 10 years. He lives outdoors, even during the winter. The 53-year-old Vietnam veteran thought he had found shelter for the coming winter last month when he built a shack in the Templeton woods. Based on research of tax maps at the town assessor’s office, he thought no one owned the land.
But the scheme fell apart Nov. 24, two days before Thanksgiving, when police officers broke down the door of the shack and arrested Brouillet for trespassing. The town’s highway crew demolished the shack with heavy equipment. The incident attracted media attention, and the story traveled far and wide, including to the pages of the Bangor Daily News.
“Honestly, I was kind of floored by the amount of press I got for this,” Brouillet said during an interview Friday on a cell phone given to him recently by a well-wisher. “It’s not something I sought out.”
The story caught the attention of Marc Calcia, who owns a trucking business in the Hancock County village of Sorrento. Calcia recognized Brouillet from years ago when Brouillet worked for him.
“He does good work and is very pious in his approach to things,” said Calcia on Friday. “He’s a guy who doesn’t want a free handout … and he’s good with a level and good with a tape measure. This guy wants to work.”
So Calcia, inspired by Brouillet’s obvious capacity for building, hatched a plan to help the man construct storage sheds and sell them. That’s how Melvin Yoder, owner of Yoder’s Saw Mill in Corinna, became involved. Under Calcia’s plan, he and Yoder will provide the lumber, Calcia will haul it to Massachusetts, and all three men will work together to sell them.
“We told him ‘If you make money, pay us back,’” said Calcia “If you don’t, God will co-sign the loan.”
All that’s lacking is a place for Brouillet to work, which as he already learned during his failed attempt at building a home for himself, isn’t easy to come by. Calcia said he’s talking with landowners in Massachusetts and New Hampshire who also were inspired by Brouillet’s story. All that’s needed is a vacant outdoor space with access to electricity and maybe a place to store a few tools.
For Brouillet, the scenario sounds perfect. He can work when he wants and the way he wants.
“Working outside is a big deal for me,” he said. “I like the sun. Some people are like that, you know.”
Brouillet said being homeless is a choice he made. There are shelters with warm beds and government agencies willing to help, but they all come with strings attached, he said.
“If you want anything you need to do paperwork,” he said. “If the government wants to know everything about me, you can keep your money and your food stamps. I can get by. I have been getting by. I’m a very independent person.”
As for the charges against him — which he’ll have to answer to during a Jan. 4 court appearance — Brouillet said he holds no ill will toward the town or the police who arrested him. Still, he intends to maintain his case that the town has no claim on the land where he built his shack.
“I’ve got to fight it because I opened this door and now I need to walk through it,” he said. “The claims the town is making I can’t substantiate in any way. If I’m found guilty, I owe the town a great big apology.”
Yoder, whose sawmill is contained in a reconstituted barn surrounded by stacks of lumber, said he’s willing to take a chance on the venture. If Brouillet builds the sheds, Yoder is confident they’ll sell.
“Generally, I wouldn’t be too eager to send a bunch of lumber to Massachusetts,” he said. “I think there’s a possibility this can work.”
Calcia agrees. He said he already travels to Massachusetts regularly and can make money hauling things back to Maine on the return trip. He invited anyone with ideas about how to help make it happen, or anyone who wants to order a shed, to call him at 877-722-5242.
Asked what he would do with the money, Brouillet said he has lofty aspirations, beginning with a long-held dream of riding his bicycle across the country. He would gather sponsors with the hope of earning enough to buy an old farm somewhere in the country.
“I’d set it up as a nonprofit,” he said. “I’d provide a farm life for veterans who that kind of lifestyle appeals to. I know there are veterans out there like me who like to be independent.”