Pastor Donnie Davis’ dream is coming true, that on the 277 acres of land beyond the 65-acre lake in Franklinville, New Jersey, he can see little homes dotting the woods, housing his goal of 60 U.S. military veterans – for free, writes nj.com.
Operation Safe Haven is a donation-based tiny house community for veterans struggling to get back on their feet after homelessness, struggles with PTSD, or general hardship. The volunteer project provides everything from housing and transportation to a two-year rehabilitation program – all at no cost to the veterans.
On Oct. 13, volunteers worked towards finishing a piece of that picture – its third microhouse for 87-year-old Korean War Veteran Sigmond Ronis, of Vineland.
Amazing Grace Ministries opened the former Village Dock Campground last May. After falling abandoned for 12 years, it now features three 300-square-foot homes, with four more to come next spring.
So far, they’ve housed one veteran. Ronis is next, though he’s not alone: He’s bringing his cat, Spots, and Carmella, his pet chicken he found “escaping” from a crate of a poultry truck on Route 55.
After his home fell into disrepair early this year, Ronis bounced between a homeless shelter and the hospital, battling a case of pneumonia. He hopes his new home will provide some peace, where he can relax and write.
“I’m looking forward to writing poetry and petting my cat,” he said, smiling.
“These guys have fallen on hard times,” Davis said. “No vet wants a handout, they want a hand up.”
As a U.S. Air Force veteran and police officer, 44-year-old Davis would know. Between boot camp and training, the military provides months of preparation for deployment, said Davis.
“When we come back or we get discharged, nobody takes the time to help you decompress and adjust back to civilian life. That’s what we’re here for,” he added.
OPSH offers peer-to-peer counseling, two therapy horses and the serenity of nature. In the future, he hopes to provide service dogs and college completion courses. Until then, volunteers are busy building a new community center and a lakeside pavilion, and clearing out a campsite to come next summer.