LAKE LEELANAU -- Dave Smiddy stood in the sunshine on his driveway with a small cigar in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other during his last full day in his rural Lake Leelanau home.
"It's heartbreaking that I'm losing my house. Absolutely heartbreaking," he said.
Nearby, a stream of volunteers carried Smiddy's packed belongings into a moving truck Wednesday for the first veteran housing project by Traverse City-based nonprofit Veterans Housing USA. The organization is moving the U.S. Army veteran into a home near the Meijer store in Traverse City which he will share with another veteran.
Smiddy said he must sell his Leelanau County home because he couldn't refinance it within 90 days after an unexpected divorce. A judge found him in contempt of court for that failure, he said, and for a time he didn't know what would come next.
"I didn't have anywhere to go. I didn't have any money. I thought, 'Holy Toledo, I'm going to be homeless,'" Smiddy said. "I would have had nowhere to go with a house full of stuff, two dogs and a cat."
Then Smiddy said he saw a post on Facebook about a veterans housing program. He connected with Mike Griffith, president of Veterans Housing USA, which received federal approval of its nonprofit status two weeks ago.
"I honestly don't know what I would have done," Smiddy said. "I thought I would live here and be married for the rest of my life."
Griffith said he first came to the Grand Traverse area from Texas to create affordable housing for students, but soon changed his plans to help veterans with housing needs.
"I knew about demand for housing here, especially for affordable housing for veterans," said Griffith, a retired U.S. Marine.
The idea is to have the nonprofit function almost as a bank for clients to allow the purchase or management of homes through the organization and then veterans can enter interest-free land contracts or simply rent the space, he said. The goal is safe and secure housing for military veterans, Griffith said.
"Veterans helping veterans is kind of the end game," he said.
Many of the volunteers at Smiddy's house Wednesday were retired military members. Army veteran Sabre Fitzgerald of Kingsley said she answered the call to volunteer because it's a way to pay back the community for help she received.
Fitzgerald said she had assistance from another local nonprofit agency when she moved to town, including funds to pay for a couple of months rent. "Now I'm on my own and doing great," she said. "I thought I'd come give back."
Volunteer Chad DeVille works as a real estate agent and said he believes some property owners across the region may be keen to work with this program as a way to either sell homes or have them reliably managed, all to specifically benefit veterans with housing needs.
"I've always had a heart for veterans. And housing is a crisis up here, just to get housing at all," DeVille said.
Griffith said Veterans Housing USA worked with the nonprofit Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Traverse City to arrange a new home for Smiddy and his housemate. Griffith also said he hopes more projects like this will soon happen.
"We are looking for properties. We are looking for donors," Griffith said.
More information about the nonprofit is available at vethousing.org online, or by contacting Griffith at email@example.com or 281-536-5633.
Want to donate?
Financial contributions can be mailed via check or money order to:
Veterans Housing USA801 S. Garfield Ave., #151Traverse City, MI49686
Online donations can be made at vethousing.org. ___
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