‘We’re not going to let vets sleep in the streets’: Waldo County group working to build homeless shelter
LIBERTY, Maine — Warren Ard believes in his heart that the country can do a lot more for its veterans.
But since he sees that a lot of his fellow veterans could use a little help right now, he and others in Waldo County have been stepping in to fill the void. They’re even working to raise three-quarters of a million dollars to build the Garry Owen House, a homeless shelter for veterans that will be located on a 7-acre parcel at the intersection of Routes 3 and 220 at the Montville-Liberty town line. Now, the parcel is home only to a decrepit farmhouse, but that will change, he and others said.
“We’re not going to let vets sleep in the streets,” said Ard, who served in the U.S. Army during the 1970s. “‘Veterans’ and ‘homeless’ shouldn’t be in the same sentence.”
The Garry Owen House will not be a one-night-only crash pad, he and other organizers said. It will be designed to address specific needs of veterans, including substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, broken marriages and a general mistrust of the government.
“We’re into helping veterans. That’s our goal,” Ard said.
The Garry Owen House is a brainchild of the Garry Owen Motorcycle Club, which was formed three years ago to build and maintain a homeless shelter for veterans.
Ard said that the name Garry Owen does not refer to a person, but instead to a legend in an Irish tune that dates back to the 1600s, and that Garryowen is a place in Ireland. The song has been used by the U.S. Army’s 1st and 7th Cavalry Regiments and holds an honored place in military history.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, veterans make up nearly a quarter of the homeless population nationwide. Motorcycle club members have been helping local veterans and their families, Ard said, including buying propane for the wife of a Knox County Vietnam War veteran who was dying of cancer, and filling the woodshed for the widow of a World War II veteran from Freedom.
“That woman was speechless,” said Ard, a general contractor. “It was just a good thing.”
The homeless shelter will take those good deeds a step further. It’s intended to be a one-story, 24-bed unit, and will be the only shelter of its kind in the state. Organizers have formed a corporation, which now is pending acceptance as an official charitable entity. Alex Allmayer-Beck, the president of the Garry Owen House, said that ideally the work on the new building will begin by late summer, but much more fundraising will need to happen first.
“It’s going to be a happening thing,” said Allmayer-Beck, who was a combat medic in Vietnam. “I’m looking forward to making it happen.”
According to Allmayer-Beck, residents of the shelter are likely to be able to grow vegetables on some of the land, and some organic farmers in the area have expressed a desire to teach the residents how to farm. Vegetables not eaten by residents could be sold to provide some income and to give residents a way to be productive.
“It would also increase their self-esteem by seeing firsthand the fruits of their labor,” he said.
Heather Carle of Liberty, a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force in the 1990s, is on the board of the Garry Owen House. She said that although the fundraising goal is lofty, she and others are excited to dig into it and start construction.
“I think it’s going to be really good,” she said. “I think there are a lot of people who see the need and are excited about it.”
Ard said that helping veterans is just the right thing to do.
“We’ll get you the help you need to get on your feet again,” he said. “Veterans don’t want a complete handout. They want a hand back up. Even if you’re anti-war — the people we’re trying to help here are the people who gave you the right to be anti-war. We’ve got to help them out. That’s all there is to it. We spend billions of dollars on other countries who don’t even like us. It’s crazy, how we treat vets.”