ANOKA, Minn. (Oct. 12, 2017) – Each night there are hundreds of veterans across Minnesota that have no where to call home. No kitchen to cook a good meal. No bathroom to shower in. And no warm bed to crawl into after a long day.
The latest research shows the average homeless veteran is 51 years old and the majority have been without a home for more than a year. A rapidly growing group of local citizens are working hard to get homeless vets off the streets before winter begins.
Several buildings at the old state hospital in Anoka have sat empty for the last decade. Now a group of local volunteers organized by State Senator Jim Abeler is trying to turn the lights back on and help homeless veterans.
“Everyday a homeless veteran sits under a bridge, at risk and unsafe. A great many in Minnesota actually take their lives and it’s tragic. The opportunity to have these cottages coupled with that need is what is driving this,” said Abeler.
The project to get these buildings up and running will not be easy. The work needed is extensive.
“There is a lot to do. There is no heat, no hot water, the toilets look like they are an iron mine just very stained, we have dozens and dozens of broken windows, the walls all need to be updated and painted. But the building is as solid as a tank,” said Abeler.
It only took a few days and more than 1,600 people had joined a Facebook group called, Friends of Homeless Vets, from there people and businesses started offering to help.
“We had a work day just last week with over 60 volunteers. We have a list of over 150 people who want to help. The community has really rallied around this,” said Abeler.
There will be a time for collecting smaller donations such as toiletries and everyday products. But, for now the focus is on some much larger items.
“I need some boilers, I need a million BTU gas boiler. We need big water heaters. We need heavy duty electric washer and dryers,” said Abeler.
And to make this already ambitious project more difficult they hope to open the first two cottages by December 1.
“Ordinarily this would be a eight month or a one year project. But, December 2 it’s going to be cold and there’s no heaters in those cardboard boxes. I’ve never been involved in a project where litteraly but not for this happening it’s life or death,” said Abeler.
Eventually the plan includes three cottages that will hold at least 20 people each. They intend to have one cottage for men, one for women and a third for families. Once operational the program will be run by Eagles Healing Nest.
“We are working with a group called Eagle’s Healing Nest out of Sauk Center and that’s going to be the group running the program. The secret that is different than other veterans programs is that this is a man or woman’s home. And they can live here as long as they choose,” said Abeler.
While these buildings might not look very inviting right now, they soon will be ready to be a place of healing and hope.
“They want a warm bed so they can get out of the cold. And, they want someone to care about them,” said Abeler.
“When the veterans are ready to leave Senator Abeler is excited to see these brave men and women once again become part of the fabric of our community.
“Our goal is to help them live here comfortably and safely and then eventually move on and go back to what they were. Just an active member of our society. Pretty exciting,” said Abeler.