BRATTLEBORO -- Bob Miller proudly fought for his nation during World War II.
He served three years in the U.S. Army and was wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. The experience made him a proud veteran and aware of the sacrifices made by the men and women of the armed forces.
So it greatly disappointed him four and a half years ago when he learned from the Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs that there are 100 homeless vets in Vermont at any given time. That disappointment inspired him and other concerned citizens to develop Home At Last, Inc. with the mission of providing permanent housing for veterans who don't have a place to live.
The non-profit 501(c)(3) organization has since purchased five mobile homes in established parks, putting a roof over the head of individuals who once served in the American military. Three of the homes are in Brattleboro, one is in Dummerston and the other is in Hinsdale, N.H. Miller said Home At Last hopes to buy a sixth by the spring.
Miller said the mobile home tenants with an income pay 30 percent of it toward rent and utility costs.
"We're moving along. We operate on a very low budget," he said in his Bonnyvale Road home on Thursday. Miller said he believes Home At Last is the only program that aims to offer permanent housing, as all others provide temporary shelter.
With Veterans' Day approaching, the group is pitching its annual fund campaign and appealing to community members for donations to keep it afloat. All donations are tax-deductible. Treasurer/Secretary Lisa Lofting said all donors receive a thank-you note in the mail.
In a letter Home At Last plans is sending to locals, Chairman Tom Appel states homelessness among veterans is on the rise in this country and includes men and women who served during World War II as well as the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Home At Last, 25 percent of all homeless people in the United States are military veterans. Substance abuse affects 50 percent of those vets and 45 percent suffer from mental illness.
Appel states in the letter that the organization's 2012 grant request to the Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs has been honored, but reduced to 50 percent (or $5,000) of its 2011 award. This is due, Miller said, to a 20-percent reduction in the amount of money the state raised via voluntary donations on the Vermont Income Tax form.
Appel, who is not a veteran, said he got involved about a year and a half ago when he was approached by some board members. He told the Reformer he knew it was a great cause.
Appel said his job entails working with the organization's finances and the business side of the group. But he said every board member leaves the monthly or bi-montly meetings with a list of things to do.
Lofting and her husband, board member Scott Lofting, both are both Air Force veterans and went a while without realizing homelessness was such a big problem in Vermont. Lisa said it is "a dirty little secret" in the area.
She said a family member told them about Home At Last and thought they might be interested in volunteering. Lisa said she and Scott get a lot of satisfaction helping military veterans who are not as fortunate as themselves.
"We give them a chance to start over," she said. "Sometimes when you're homeless your family doesn't have anything to do with you. We help (veterans) get started in a new direction."
Home At Last not only purchases the mobile homes but also does renovating and furnishing work and equips them with the basic necessities. The organization does not have an overhead operating budget and the administration work is handled by the volunteer board of directors.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.