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United Veterans of Maine shelter now housing five

CARIBOU, Maine — Two years ago, United Veterans of Maine President John DeVeau had a concept for a homeless shelter for veterans, where they could not only find a home, but their work on-site could help sustain the program while giving residents a sense of purpose. 

Now, he’s shown Maine that he’s not just a dreamer, but a doer.

With three complete cabins and a fourth nearly finished, the Dahlgren-Skidgel Farm of Hope now hosts three individual veterans in addition to a husband, wife and their service dog. Three of the cabins are duplexes, each with two units for individual veterans, while the fourth structure is designed for a family.

Since holding a grand opening on Nov. 18, 2017, DeVeau says more than eight homeless veterans have stayed at the shelter, received the help they needed through UVM’s connection to local community programs, and successfully transitioned back into the world.

DeVeau said on Oct. 30 that he and volunteer staff at UVM are trying to “get everything done all at once” before winter comes up with the hope of filling in the single vacancy and finishing the final duplex.

Back in 2016, DeVeau referred to the program as a “hand up, not a hand out,” and expects those staying to give back and contribute to the best of their ability.

He said his expectations are equivalent to the experience and skills of each individual living at the shelter.

“If somebody is physically or mentally incapable of doing something,” he said, “we won’t ask them to do it. But we ask the ones who can, to do so.”

As a result, the tasks can range from sweeping the floors to carpentry. DeVeau said one individual staying at the shelter has military information technology experience, and has been helping by donating his time as an IT specialist for UVM’s computer systems.

Out of the four cabins built for the United Veterans of Maine Dahlgren-Skidgel Farm of Hope, one is designed for a family. The shelter built here contains doors leading to bedrooms (as seen on the right) where a wall would normally separate the two living spaces in the other buildings. (Chris Bouchard)

The rules for residents are fairly strict, and all incoming guests have to read and sign a 26 page code of conduct. He said one individual actually left the facility because that person didn’t want to do the paperwork, and that about two months ago a resident told him he no longer wanted to work or help.

“He came to me on a Saturday and said, ‘John, I’m not going to work.’ I gave him another chance and reminded him of the paperwork he signed, and he still said ‘no,’” John explained.

While this meant that the individual had to leave the facility, DeVeau still purchased the man a bus ticket so he could travel to Bangor where a few more facilities are available, and he was “gone the next day.”

DeVeau said one of the main reasons he requires incoming veterans to review a lengthy code of conduct is to make sure they “completely understand” what they’re getting into and are able to choose whether to “take full benefit of this process or not come in because it’s too restrictive.”

Another important rule, aside from working to the best of one’s ability, is a zero tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol.

“We have these rules in place because we’re trying to help people who want help,” he said, “and who don’t feel like they’re entitled to everything. Veterans do deserve help; they’ve earned it, but it doesn’t mean they can get a free ride. No one can get a free ride. There are benefits in place for them, but they still have to give back a little bit.”

Aside from a board of directors and the residents at the shelter, DeVeau said there are five volunteer staffers at the shelter, which is a completely non-profit endeavor.

With his idea now a reality, DeVeau said he wants to expand the scope of the project, and eventually establish a long-term, 90 day substance abuse and mental health facility, an educational facility in which applicants can take an 18-week course in which they receive numerous certifications for a variety of trades, and an assisted living facility.

His vision is of a system in which someone could receive help at the mental health facility, transition to the Farm of Hope, then receive work certifications and learn a trade through the educational facility.

While these projects are still in the conceptual phase, DeVeau said he is looking at a couple of parcels of land in Caribou to build them.

Anyone interested in learning more about, volunteering or helping the Farm of Hope can contact the organization at 325-1517.

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