Jacksonville, FL - This weekend around 30 veterans learned the shelter they call home may not be open much longer.
The couple who runs the Allied Veterans Center in Arlington told WOKV they would deliver the news and ask everyone to help out after learning their major donor, Allied Veterans of the World, has been accused of criminal activity. Key players in the organization are accused of using the name as a front to run illegal gambling sites that were supposed to be giving money to veteran charities.
The Center received hundreds of thousands of dollars, and now will have to close its doors in a few months if they don’t find another source of funding.
But even after learning that news, some of the residents are not giving up hope.
“We’re gunna get through it, but it’s gunna be a lot more difficult now,” says Bryan Stewart.
Stewart is a former National Guardsman who has been living in the Center a few months. He served in the Gulf War from 1986-91.
He describes himself as well educated, but says he stumbled on bad luck and personal problems and was dealing with PTSD.
“If it wasn’t for the Center, I would be on the streets,” he says.
A similar story to the story Navy veteran Anthony Centonze shares. He served at sea from 2006-12 and has been at the Center just a few days. In that time he has found comfort in having a bed and food. He tells us if that were taken away, he would likely be back on the streets.
But despite that being a very real option on the table, Centonze is also optimistic.
“I have all the confidence in the world that somebody will step up and help with this place,” he says.
Stewart tells us he was humbled by needing to ask for help, but the resources provided at the Center have helped him move toward independence once again, and he gives the credit for that to the couple who run it, Len and Suzi Loving.
“I wanna be able to get out of here and give back to these people,” he says.
He jokes with us about how Colonel Loving would love to see the shelter empty because every occupant has been able to get on the right path. Both veterans credit the resources at the Center, from job connections to legal advice, for moving them closer to doing that.
“I never thought I would be here, but I am, and I try to make the best of it on a daily basis,” Stewart says.
The Loving’s have given up a salary until their financial future is more certain. They’ve asked the small staff to consider the same and have now told the veteran residents about what the future holds. Len Loving tells us they will be open through June or July, but unless new donors step in, past that is unclear.
Stewart and Centonze pass that plea on to you, but say it’s not for their sake but rather the Center’s. Stewart says the Loving’s have big plans to help a lot of people, and that could be washed away if the doors close.