Homeless shelter geared toward vets planned for Waldo County

First fund raiser to be held March 29 in Belfast
Mar 15, 2014

Three years ago the Garry Owen Motorcycle Club was formed to build and maintain a homeless shelter for veterans. The decision to form this club was the fact that more than 40 percent of the homeless nationally, are veterans — some going as far back as the Korean War. To the members of GOMC and other motorcycle organizations, this is seen as a travesty and a challenge to help change this sad state of affairs.

In order to be a member of GOMC one has to be a veteran or be a family member of a veteran. This is not unusual because there are many motorcycle clubs and associations that require their members to be veterans. The Legion Riders, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, and Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club, are examples of such organizations. They proudly wear a patch on their vests that reads, “Vets helping Vets.” It has also been found that almost all motorcycle organizations have a high concentration of Veterans in their ranks and these motorcyclists also belong to multiple motorcyclist organizations. Organizations arise because of a need. The best example is “The Patriot Guard Riders” who were organized to ensure that a veteran’s funeral is not desecrated by groups like the group from Kansas that picketed military funerals. The above mentioned groups do funeral escorts, parades, and escort Wreaths across America from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery. Our governor’s wife is an avid motorcyclists and participates in such events.

To date, GOMC has purchased a 7-acre plot of land with a crumbling old farmhouse at the intersection of Route 3 and Route 220 in Liberty. They have a clear title for this property.

A corporation called Garry Owen House has been formed and is currently pending 501(c)(3) status as a public charity. Applications to the state of Maine and the Internal Revenue Service have been submitted. Letters of support have been received from Gov. Paul LePage and State Senator Michael Thibodeau with more to follow.

Gary Owen House has a board of directors which has met three times to formulate by-laws, mission and vision statements, and estimates as to what this project will cost. The current estimate is $750,000 to $1 million for a one story 24-bed unit. The board meets monthly.

The officers for Owen house are: President Alem Allmayer-Beck; Vice President Don Harriman, Treasurer Warren Ard; and Secretary Luther Thornton. Board members are Heather Carle, Jan Gunderson and Lou Pelletier.

The Owen House will not be your typical homeless shelter. It will be geared to address the needs of veterans by veterans and will hopefully serve as a model for future shelters.

Some of the problems that homeless veterans have to deal with are PTSD, substance abuse, broken marriages, depression, alienation from society, and a general mistrust of the government. Since the VA is part of the Federal Government, it gets underutilized because of this mistrust. The end result is that theveteran does not know what benefits he/she is entitled to such as medical care, job training, mental health services, and so on, both on the state and federal level.

In order to address the above problems, the shelter will not be a one night “crash pad” where the person is out on the street the next morning. Emphasis will be on re-integrating the person into mainstream society by linking him/her to available services either through the VA or state and local resources. Since the shelter is located on a 7-acre property, there is no reason that Owen House can’t cultivate some of the land to grow vegetables. There are a number of organic farmers in the area who have expressed a desire to teach the residents how to grow premium quality vegetables. What is not used in the kitchen can be sold at a farm stand on the property. This could provide some income for the shelter and give the residents a vehicle to be productive. It would also increase their self-esteem by seeing firsthand the fruits of their labor.

The “elephant in the room” that people are avoiding is PTS — Post Traumatic Stress (Note the the “D” is omitted). The reason that the “D” for disorder is omitted is because PTS is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation — the trauma of having been in combat or being exposed to some of the horrors associated with war or any situation that is outside of the norm. (It is not normal to be shot at or to see your friend dismembered by and IED.) Telling a person that that was then and this is now — “Get over it” is doing the person a great disservice because anyone who has PTS or who has worked with people with PTS can tell you that you don’t “get over it” — at best, you adjust to it.

The evidence today is that PTS and its offshoots will be the mainstay of Owen House. To that end, linkages with mental health professionals, job counselors, substance abuse counselors, and just people who care, will be of the utmost importance. The late Dr. Arthur Neulander stressed the importance of a “therapeutic milieu.” This, in itself, to a great degree allows the individual to heal. There is a lot to be said for a person’s surroundings.

At this point, the ideal target date would be to begin construction in late summer 2014. In order to accomplish this, some major fundraising will need to take place. Our first fundraiser will be a dance/concert featuring “The Juke Rockets Blues Band”  Saturday, March 29, at 7 p.m., at the VFW Hall on Field Street in Belfast.

Contributions can also be sent to Garry Owen House, 45A Lincolnville Ave., Belfast, Maine, 04915, to Bangor Savings Bank, 106 Main St., Belfast, Maine, 04915 or to any of its branch offices.

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