Nick Hanna, a former resident of the Garry Owen House shelter for homeless veterans, has gone through several government programs and facilities, and there is always some kind of “BS.” At GOH, he said, “They genuinely care and they prove it with their actions.” Other vets like Hanna agree that the all-volunteer operation has provided them with life-changing support at a critical time in their lives.

Now, Garry Owen House itself needs help to purchase the building it has occupied for the last four years, and on which the lease is about to expire.

Plan to buy the building

Dana Philippi, Garry Owen House president, told The Republican Journal in an interview Oct. 28 that the group is in the process of securing a loan to purchase its building.

Located at the former Apple Squeeze building at 163 Belfast Augusta Road (Route 3) in Searsmont, Garry Owen House has served about 45 needy veterans since it began operating in December 2016. This Nov. 30, its four-year lease will expire.

Philippi said the nonprofit has submitted paperwork to a bank and is working with an attorney, but as of this writing, has yet to secure a $50,000 loan to purchase the building. The house is priced at a third of its assessed value, according to Philippi.

The bank is currently waiting for an inspector to check out the building, he said, but there is a sense of urgency.

“Our future lies on buying the Apple Squeeze,” Philippi said.

In the four years Garry Owen House has operated the shelter, the building has proven to be a good fit for their needs, he said, and shows promise for possible expansion in the future. Zoning would allow for another structure to be erected using the foundation of an attached small restaurant that has been demolished. The addition to the current building would permit support for female veterans and would be handicapped-accessible.

Right now, Philippi said, the house can accommodate six veterans and there is no time limit as to how long one can stay. There have been times when the house was at capacity and had to refer veterans to other temporary shelters.

"We had one person stay about a year," Philippi said. On the other hand, "we've had people stay a week."

The idea for a local veterans' shelter was initially proposed by the Garry Owen Motorcycle Club of Maine. The group purchased a 20-acre parcel in Montville and proposed a 24-bed facility costing upwards of $750,000. The motorcycle club eventually realized the price tag was too high.

In 2016 the group was offered a lease on the semi-habitable farmhouse on Route 3 by owner John McCafferty, as long as taxes and insurance were paid. With help from local volunteers, the motorcycle club rehabilitated the house and made it habitable once again. Projects already completed include installation of a new furnace, hot water heater and refrigerator, as well as roofing and septic work.

Even though McCafferty generously gave them the house rent-free, the group still must raise funds to pay for operations — on the order of $12,000 a year, Philippi said. The entire operation is run by volunteers with no paid employees.

"We are eking it out," Philippi said, "but getting by."

Services provided

Upon arriving, veterans are assigned a room or bed, depending on what is available. All food is provided free and a professional case manager works with them to arrange medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said.

The program also works with HUD VASH, a collaboration between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs that combines HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services to help homeless veterans.

Other social groups such as Preble Street, Easter Seals and churches in Searsport and Orland have also provided support. Local food pantries and the Reentry Center Garden Project have brought them fresh vegetables in the past, Philippi said. WindowDressers has provided window inserts for the building, to help keep the house warmer and reduce energy costs.

In an innovative agreement with the Maine Warden Service, Garry Owen House also receives processed roadkill. "We have a whole freezer filled with deer and moose," Philippi said.

According to a capital campaign request from the board of directors, the nonprofit's goal is to construct a 16-to-20-bed addition and renovate the house. Structural upgrades will include siding, windows, roof repair and bathroom updates and will total $15,000 to $20,000. Design and architectural support for the addition will be donated, as well as materials and labor from volunteers and in-house residents.

Completion of the final facility will depend on future grants and volunteer services, but Philippi estimated completion would be 12 to 18 months after the purchase of the leased property.

The men GOH helps

Graduate Hanna told The Journal Oct. 29 that he just bought a house in western Maine, is engaged and is looking forward to getting married next fall.

After a tour of Afghanistan, Hanna said, he struggled with post traumatic stress disorder, which led him to turn to drugs and eventually to his becoming homeless. “My life began to fall apart,” he said.

After receiving help from the VA in San Diego, he realized he could not stay because of “too much history” in the area and moved to Oregon. Although he remained sober, he said, “it just did not work out there.”

In 2018, he moved to Maine and met someone connected with Garry Owen House at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Once at the shelter, Hanna said, the veteran took him under his wing and showed him compassion.

“We were inseparable, almost like brothers,” he said. “He still comes over to my house for dinner. He would listen, and then try to redirect me in a different light.”

Because of his friend's guidance, Hanna said, he is able to “roll with life’s punches” and is a productive member of society.

“That’s the best part of the GOH for me,” Hanna said. “Listening and helping each other. Words are never going to describe it accurately,” he said, “but when someone’s been there, they understand.”

Current resident Robert L. Harwood told The Journal Oct. 31 he is "very thankful to Dana and the board" for the opportunity to stay at the shelter. Harwood said he had been homeless for 2 1/2 months prior to coming to Garry Owen House, and now he and his service dog, Luger, are doing much better.

Garry Owen House is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization and all gifts are tax-deductible. Contributions can be sent to Garry Owen House, P.O. Box 34, Liberty, ME 04949 or to Bangor Savings Bank, 106 Main St., Belfast, ME 04915.

For more information, contact Phillipi at 589-4730 or email info@garryowenhouse.org.