JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The people who live and work at an Arlington center for homeless vets are still recovering from the agonizing day on March 12 when they learned their board president and directors had all been arrested on racketeering charges, erasing 98 percent of the center's funding and potentially its future.
The center, formerly known as Allied Veterans Center, is now called Five Star Veterans Center. And despite its obstacles, it's pressing on.
"It was really stressful at the beginning because we weren't sure whether we were going to be seized, whether they were going to take the bank account, and if they did, then all of the sudden I'd have to tell everybody, 'You got to go tomorrow,'" said Ret. Col. Len Loving, manager of the homeless center.
But tomorrow came, and so did help, just enough to keep the doors open.
On Wednesday night, a new board was brought in, led by Keith Maynard, an attorney at Wood, Atter and Wolf, who after 20 years with the Army National Guard, recently returned from a tour in Iraq.
"When I heard what was going on, I basically said, 'How can I get involved? What can I do?'" Maynard said.
Maynard's practice is, among other things, providing free legal help to the Five Star Veterans Center. In fact, everyone there is pitching in.
Loving and his wife are now running the center on a salary of $1 a month.
The homeless vets staying there are pitching in more than expected, too. Brett Bell was deployed to Iraq four times and is suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, but says his top priority is keeping the center going.
"They've treated me really well, and I try to just help out as much as I can to give back to them in their time of need right now," Bell said.
"That's the type of thing that makes you really feel good, makes you feel you're not out there by yourself," Loving said.
The center used to run on $50,000 a month. Now it's $16,000 a month. It's not out of the woods just yet. It needs some major fundraising and potentially grants to keep going, but Loving says he's optimistic.