Don White frequently returns to the Richard Lugar Safe Haven for Veterans to visit and do chores.
White lived at the shelter for homeless military veterans from shortly after it opened in February until mid-June, when he moved to an apartment complex.
Staying at the shelter “let me work on finally getting my feet back on the ground,” he said Tuesday during a dedication ceremony at the Lugar Safe Haven, 2424 Fairfield Ave.
“The staff here has been wonderful,” he told a crowd of about 70 people. “They helped me get a place, which I am now in, and I enjoy it.”
During an interview later, White disclosed that he had suffered a heart attack and required a pacemaker, further complicating his homelessness.
The Lugar Safe Haven staff became “just like my family,” he said.
“If I hadn't been here, I would have been dead. … I was ready to die,” said White, an Indianapolis native who said he served in the Navy from 1972 to 1974.
He spent almost a year in a shelter in Marion before he came to Fort Wayne.
Lugar Safe Haven director Lisa Christen said one homeless veteran slept four weeks in a chair in the lobby of the 25-bed shelter because he wasn't used to sleeping in a bed.
“Last night, that man slept in his own bed in his own apartment,” Christen announced at the dedication.
Nearly half of the 48 veterans who have stayed at the shelter – “These are chronically homeless veterans, living on the streets, living under our bridges,” Christen said – have been placed in permanent housing. Veterans may live at the shelter for up to six months.
The Lugar Safe Haven is operated by the nonprofit, faith-based Volunteers of America Indiana, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Home Depot Foundation. It is among 20 such safe havens established throughout the nation in recent years through VA's National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans.
“Until we reach a day when there is not a single veteran sleeping on our nation's streets, our work remains unfinished,” said Helen Rhodes, chief of mental health services for VA Northern Indiana Health Care System.
Rhodes said Fort Wayne now has five transitional housing sites associated with the VA.
The newest shelter is named for Lugar, a Republican U.S. senator from Indiana from 1977 through 2012 and a veteran himself. He did not attend Tuesday's ceremony but sent a letter expressing his gratitude to Volunteers of America and to veterans.
Tours were offered at the former office building, which was converted into bedrooms and common areas that offer bathrooms, showers, television, computers and reading materials.
The Lugar Safe Haven houses men and women on separate floors, serves them three meals a day plus snacks, provides a VA liaison and offers mental health and substance abuse programs.
Staffers for Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and for Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, spoke at the dedication, and Mayor Tom Henry read a proclamation in honor of the Lugar Safe Haven.