Local vets’ mobile homeless shelter project gains momentum

Pledges from Hancock Lumber, Camping World support building more temporary mobile shelters
Tue, 01/28/2020 - 7:00am

A homeless veterans project spearheaded by three local vets received a huge boost through support from two businesses. Vietnam veteran Ed Harmon of Boothbay began the project with a goal of providing temporary housing for about a dozen Maine homeless veterans each night. With the help of two other Boothbay region vets, John Hargreaves and Arthur Richardson, a mobile shelter was built for around $8,500. The three vets hoped a vision of what a mobile homeless shelter would look like would prod state veterans’ advocates into producing a fleet to house about 13-15 homeless vets a night. 

But the trio’s goal may be closer than first expected. A television news report has put the plight of homeless Maine veterans in the hearts and minds of the local business community. WCSH-TV in Portland broadcast a report about the Boothbay project. The broadcast resulted in a quick response from Hancock Lumber and a Conway, New Hampshire Camping World store. The next day, Harmon received a call from the Camping World store pledging to donate windows, vinyl floors and labor. It wasn’t long after that Hancock Lumber offered to help find the best price for lumber.

“My phone is blowing up,” Harmon said. “We’ve been interviewed by CBS Radio, American Legion National, and I received a call from Washington state’s veterans affair official. And on the next morning, an email was sent to veterans, so the word is definitely starting to get out.”

Harmon estimates it takes 2-7 days for the government to place a homeless vet in a shelter. The mobile van is designed to provide a safe, comfortable place for a vet awaiting placement. Harmon bought a trailer and began renovating it for use as a temporary shelter. He was joined by Hargreaves, who handles the project’s finances, and Richardson, an electrician. “I call them ‘my right-hand and my left hand.’ We wanted to show what was possible so we built a mobile shelter. So far, the public response has been overwhelming,” Harmon said.

The Conway, New Hampshire store’s offer is being joined by Camping World’s national headquarters. Harmon spoke to Camping World’s national officials who pledged to assist in bulk manufacturing which would keep the per unit price down. He said they discussed building 12 units for about $31,800. “They gave us a tremendous price, but the freight is going to be a killer,” he said. 

What began as a way to provide temporary shelter for Maine veterans may expand nationally. Harmon reported his conversations with Camping World officials indicate the project may eventually reach beyond Maine. In pursuing the mobile shelter project, Harmon’s motivation is based on the military credo: To never leave anyone behind.

“I will do anything to help a vet. Our objective is to help Maine vets first, then, we can start to help those in other states,” Harmon said. “But it’s not going to be easy. A lot of vets feel left behind and don’t have a lot of trust in the government. So it may take some time to convince them that we’re here to help.”

As the project’s scope widens, fundraising is becoming a bigger priority. The three vets started a GoFundMe page titled “Veterans Temporary Homeless Mobile Shelter.” The page has received $170 of a $50,000 goal. Donations can also be sent to the Boothbay American Legion marked “Vets Post 36 attention John Hargreaves.”

Harmon plans on showing the mobile shelter unit at various veterans events across the state this year.

This article has been updated from its original posting.