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Caroline House: Michigan Farmer Helps Homeless Veterans

Published on Friday, November 10, 2017

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), there are around 40,000 homeless veterans in our country. In Lapeer, Michigan, Beck’s customer and Vietnam veteran, Pat Bell, is working to reduce that number by operating a homeless shelter on one of his farms.

The shelter is a relatively new effort for Pat, but multiple life experiences over the years lead him on this journey. It all started when Pat served in the Marines during the Vietnam War.

“Being in a war definitely changes you,” Pat explained. “When I first came home, I was a little bit crazy. It took me a little while to readjust, but I always knew how to work hard.”

When he got home from the service, Pat went right to work as an iron worker. When he was 28 years old, he decided to start farming. Sadly, two years after that, Pat lost his daughter, Caroline. After losing his daughter, farming was the one thing that kept him going. He felt like he could always function at work, so he would work a full day and then farm until 12 or 1 a.m. every night.

Pat worked both jobs up until three years ago when he decided to farm full-time. As a first generation farmer, Pat had to figure things out as he went. But the discipline and determination he learned in the Marines helped him achieve whatever he set his mind to.

He also learned to never leave anyone behind, which has fueled his passion for helping the homeless. For the last 10 years, Pat has been hosting an outdoor barbecue every Saturday to feed the homeless in the Cass Corridor of Detroit which serves around 300 people. It was there that the idea for the shelter came to life. One day, a homeless man told him, ‘I will work on your farm for free if I can live in your barn.’ At that moment, he told himself he was going to open a homeless shelter.

Pat was planning to build a house on one of the farms he owns near town, but then a 130-acre farm came up for sale that had a extremely large house. He knew this was the perfect place to bring his shelter to life.

 

 

The house is now called the Caroline House, in his daughter’s memory. With six bedrooms and three bathrooms, Pat can host up to 20 occupants. He helps those living in the house raise pigs, cattle and chickens, and tend to a large organic garden.

 

 

 

“It gives them some net worth and whatever they make off of it, they get to keep,” Pat adds. “Some of these guys also have PTSD. And since I was a combat veteran, I can usually talk to them and help them through it because I’ve been there and done that.”

As part of the VA, veterans get the HUD-VASH which pays their rent and utilities until they get on their feet. But the wait for that is 6 to 8 months, so that’s the hole Pat fills. About 95 percent of his clients are veterans and their families, but once in a while he’ll hear of a hard case where a mother and her kids are homeless and offer to take them in as well.

“I just want to help people,” Pat expressed. “I’m happiest when it’s full, that’s why I did it. If I need more room, I’ll build three more rooms. All I tell my clients is that I want them to do good and go forward with their life. I help some of them find jobs and I get them involved in agriculture. I actually have one that works on my farm for me.”

 


Vietnam veteran, Pat Bell (left), opened a homeless shelter on his farm in Lapeer, MI to help fellow veterans. Here he his is pictured with some of his clients currently living in the house.

 

Whether it is hosting a veteran, his wife and their two kids that had been living in their car for six months, or driving more than an hour to pick up a veteran who was living in an abandoned building, the number of people that Pat has impacted is incredible. But he’s not doing any of this for recognition. At the end of the day, he’s just happy to help.

“Working around the homeless is a humbling experience.” Pat added. “I’ve done very well in life and been very blessed. When I get new clients, I’m on cloud nine because I’m just happy to be helping somebody. I like what I’m doing, and I’m actually looking at another house to maybe expand it. Because trust me, there’s still a lot of homeless out there.”

 

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Chelsea O'Brien
Chelsea O'Brien>

Chelsea O'Brien

Beck's Hybrids marketing associate, social media specialist, southern Indiana native and advocate of agriculture.

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