Michigan veteran and his nonprofit have unique way to help homeless vets

By CHRIS EHRMANN | The Bay City (Mich.) Times | Published: March 11, 2019

BAY CITY, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — A Bay City veteran is helping his homeless fellow brothers in arms by renovating a house for up to 15 of the veterans.

Bruce Douglas, a Vietnam War veteran from Bay City, owns a rummage shop in town as well as a house that is being renovated in the hopes that up to 15 homeless veterans can stay there to get back on their feet.

“I get tired of stopping at a stop sign or red light and have some veteran come over, soliciting funds to get to a motel,” Douglas said.

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of his owning the building located at 303 18th St. that Douglas, wife Mary Ann and a former homeless vet are renovating.

Douglas, the recipient of the 2005 Bay County Veteran of the Year award, said the community has helped them get materials for the house. Home Depot, for example, donated the roof they will replace on the house, and all of the drywall and paint that will be used to get the house into shape.

The unique way he is, in part, helping pay for it comes from the Veteran’s Rummage Shop he also owns — which takes donations to help veterans who are on a fixed income or need help — where all of the money made there goes to pay the bills for heat and electricity at the new homeless shelter.

The Douglases said they were able to purchase the house last year for $2,300.

She added that they bought the five-bedroom, two-bathroom house and donated it to their charity, Veteran’s Rest, which also will be the name of the homeless shelter when it is finished.

Bruce Douglas, who served several tours in Vietnam from 1960 to 1966 and later was medically evacuated out — said that for veterans, it can be hard to get back into civilian life, especially after seeing conflict and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We didn’t have a lot of sergeants with combat experience; they made me a platoon sergeant. We walked into some really bad stuff,” Douglas said. “I (have) seen my whole platoon wiped out in Vietnam, you’re never gonna get that out of your mind; I left part of a kidney and (a) lung over there.”

Vince Caillouette, a formerly homeless veteran from Portland, Ore., said ordinary homeless shelters can’t deal well with homeless veterans because they have more unusual experiences or medical conditions than the typical homeless person.

“Some of those veterans have complete, severe PTSD, or something of that nature, and if they get strongly approached by somebody or have night terrors or something like that, nobody in the shelter knows how to take care of it other than to shake it off,” he said.

He ended his service as a private second class after serving from 2009 to 2013 and said he sort of looks to Douglas as a father figure.

“I honestly love doing carpentry. Bruce is pretty much like a dad to me. He needs my help, I help him and put my foot into something he started,” Caillouette said. “I want to be known here in Bay City to be doing something.”

He added that he helped rewire the entire house to help get it up to the city’s code, and that cost nearly $10,000.

The rummage shop is run by another veteran, Timothy Causley, who said Douglas is the reason why it’s all possible.

“The reason why I do it is because of that man sitting back right there,” he said, “he helped me for years like he’s helped thousands of veterans and it’s my way of helping back.” Because Bruce Douglas owns that building as well, he pays the bills at the rummage shop to make sure “every penny” of the items sold go to the house he is renovating.

Causley said the shop receives donations from all over the state and have come from as far north as Houghton Lake and as far south as Trenton.

Bruce Douglas and his wife — married for 56 years — said they are happy with what they are doing because they believe it is what they were supposed to do.

Mary Ann Douglas said, “You’re gonna spend your money on something,” and it is better than having the money spent at the casino or something else. She added, “Things work out” the way they are supposed to.

“I am hoping that we can have a nice Christmas here. I don’t want my veterans next year to be out (in the cold). I want them to know all about this place,” Bruce said.

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