Man dreams of providing homes for homeless veterans
In 2015 Don Shelby had a vision.
The Army veteran had seen homelessness from the inside in 2012. He saw firsthand some of the challenges that homeless people face in getting back on their feet. One of the biggest, he felt, was that when he went to one local shelter, he had to be out by 7:30 a.m. and could not return until 6 p.m. Anyone who wasn't working had to walk the streets.
A chance meeting with Tammie Shroll at the Sooner Stand Down in Oklahoma City turned his life around. As food service manager for the Lawton-Fort Sill Veterans Center since Oct. 1, 2003, she advised him to apply for a job there. She hired him, and he soon had an apartment of his own.
All the time he worked at the veterans' home, and even after his retirement, Shelby dreamed of helping other homeless veterans in the same way Tammie Shroll had helped him. He volunteered to help with the Southwest Oklahoma Stand Down. But he also dreamed of providing homeless veterans with a place they wouldn't have to leave during the day, which he felt would put them on a more solid footing in their quest for a better life.
While walking around downtown Lawton one day, he saw three vacant houses for sale. He looked into it and decided to use his own money to buy them. He launched Home at Last Lawton and sought the public's help to get them fixed up.
A board of directors was assembled. Their plan was to provide homeless veterans not only a temporary place to live but also guidance in applying for benefits, strengthening job skills, building resumes, the interview process and any other help they may need on their way to self-sustainability.
Then the organization ran into problems that its founder had not foreseen. One was that the three houses proved too costly to bring up to code. The other was that the loan he took out to buy the houses was in his own name. When Home at Last Lawton was subsequently granted nonprofit status as a 501(c )3 organization, the board of Home at Last Lawton learned it was not legal to commingle private funds with nonprofit funds.
The board decided it would be more practical to give the houses back to Shelby and use part of what Home at Last Lawton had raised to buy another house. They found one at 705 SW McKinley that would not require as large of an investment and bought it. The other three houses have since been sold, according to board member Ro Bielinski.
Tammie Shroll and Susan Secor recently returned to the board because they wanted to see Shelby's vision through.
"I've always believed in Don. I met Don at Oklahoma City, and I hired him, and he worked for me. And I just believed in what his cause was," Tammie Shroll said. "I really want it to work. I want this to happen. For Don. For those veterans out there that need a home ... They shouldn't be out on the street. They should be in a home ... This was (Don's) dream, and it's become our dream."
Tammie's husband Sam is also on the board. She said he works as a contractor on Fort Sill, and he is volunteering his time to get the house on McKinley ready for occupancy. It will house two veterans once it's ready.