Wounded Warriors charity in Collier opens third home to provide housing for homeless veterans
Bob Mabry’s misfortune of being homeless is no more now that he lives in a home run by Wounded Warriors of Collier County.
“I never expected something like this,” Mabry, 71, said. “It’s wonderful.”
He is one of two veterans who moved in April 1 to a home at 1200 Granada Blvd. in Naples, which Wounded Warriors operates to provide long-term supportive housing for senior veterans who previously were homeless. A third veteran is lined up to move into the three-bedroom, two bath residence.
Called Charlie House, it’s the third property that Wounded Warriors has opened in recent years in a mission to tackle homelessness among local veterans.
A bigger project is in the works, to buy a 10-unit apartment complex in East Naples that is for sale where negotiations with the owner are underway now, said Dale Mullin, president of Wounded Warriors.
That is called the Delta Project and it was launched in January to identify a single site to provide housing for 15 to 20 homeless veterans, which can include their families.
Founded in 2014, Wounded Warrior’s mission it to provide housing and supportive services for homeless veterans, either transitional housing to help them get back on their feet or long-term supportive housing for senior veterans. Its website points out that it is not a Naples chapter of the Wounded Warrior Project.
The Jewish Family and Children's Services of the Suncoast (JFCS), also helps homeless veterans and near homeless veterans get into housing in a six-county region that includes Lee and Collier, along with Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties, according to Shellie Legarsky, director of veterans' services for the organization.
The Department of Veteran Affairs provides two grants to JFCS annually that is a combined $3.3 million for rapid rehousing and long-term housing for eligible veterans, she said. A housing specialist is based in Charlotte, DeSoto, Lee and Collier to work with landlords, she said.
St. Vincent de Paul CARES, based in St. Petersburg, also operates housing assistance services for homeless veterans in Southwest Florida, she said.
The lack of affordable housing in Collier is acute and veterans and their families are among segments of the community impacted by the red hot real estate market, Mullin said.
Landlords are selling rentals for top dollar or raising rents during lease renewals that are out or reach for veterans and their families, even if the veterans have housing vouchers from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to help with the cost.
Legarsky said some landlords have been wonderful while others have dramatically raised rents. Many veterans cannot afford to pay $700 a month for a room.
"This market for rent is out of sight," said Legarsky of JFCS. "It is very challenging."
Mullin said more charitable organizations and business leaders in Collier are waking up to the shortage of affordable housing and want elected leaders to address the crisis.
“It is gaining traction,” he said. “It takes resources and it takes money.”
Organization has broad support
Last year, Wounded Warriors raised more than $1 million, Mullin said.
A big supporter has been the Collier Community Foundation which has provided $502,150 to Wounded Warriors since 2019 in grants and other charitable funds, according to the foundation.
Wounded Warrior’s second property is Bravo House at 1139 Sperling Ave. which opened in March 2021, also as long-term supportive housing for three senior veterans.
The organization’s first property is Alpha House, opened in January 2020 at 1361 Fifth Ave. N. as transitional housing for younger homeless veterans who are facing mental health or substance abuse issues. There are seven veterans in Alpha.
“We bought Bravo House through a major donor, an anonymous donor, through the community foundation,” Mullin said.
Eileen Connolly-Keesler, president and chief executive officer of the Collier foundation, said Wounded Warrior’s work to support veterans with their basic needs of housing and food has been outstanding.
“The Collier Community Foundation will continue to support this organization that addresses these issues for the many men and women who have proudly protected our nation,” she said.
There are roughly 90 homeless veterans in Collier, according to “point in time” counts done each January by the Hunger and Homeless Coalition of Collier County. The total population of veterans in the county is about 28,000.
The road he traveled
Mabry grew up in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1971 to 1975. He was stationed in Spain.
“We trained fighter pilots,” he said. “I was a photojournalist in Spain.”
After he finished in the Air Force. Mabry came back to Florida to finish his degree in biology at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. He went back to Spain where his wife is from but they later divorced. They had three children, now all grown and living in Spain.
Back in Florida, Mabry sold cars in Orlando for a living. He eventually moved to North Fort Myers where he was living in a trailer with two roommates until the owner of the trailer gave them three days to move out.
“That was two years ago,” he said. “I went into a motel, there were three of us, until the money ran out.”
He contacted the VA which has a 20-bed facility for veterans in Port Charlotte where he was able to stay for a time while trying to find a place to live but the rents “kept going up every day,” he said. He also stayed in a shelter in Port Charlotte.
An outreach worker for the VA contacted Mullin about helping Mabry and that’s how he ended up in Naples.
Mabry signed a year’s lease for the room at the Charlie House where he pays 30% of his gross income on rent. He is now retired and living on Social Security.
The senior veterans in Bravo and Charlie houses must meet income limitations and cannot earn more than $41,000, Mullin said.
Mabry is grateful to Wounded Warriors and how it helps veterans like himself.
“When I first walked in here, I was amazed,” Mabry said of the spotless residence that was recently renovated.
The property is owned by a local businessman, who wishes to remain anonymous, Mullin said.
He contacted Mullin and said he wanted to help with Wounded Warrior’s cause, and bought the property for $400,000 and put another $100,000 into fixing it up, Mullin said.
The businessman is leasing the property to Wounded Warriors for five years at a price Mullin said is “dirt cheap.” He won’t disclose the lease amount.
“He and his wife wanted to do something to give back,” Mullin said.
What’s the Delta Project?
The Delta project has come about after examining the results of Wounded Warrior’s housing efforts and deciding a more cost effective approach was needed, according to a two-page project outline.
A committee began meeting and discussed options of building something that could house up to 20 veterans or finding a property to repurpose, Mullin said.
Because building takes time, the group began looking for property. A 10-unit apartment complex near Rattlesnake-Hammock Road and U.S. 41 East has been identified as potential, Mullin said.
It is for sale and the asking price is $3 million. Mullin said he and his team are meeting with the owner to negotiate a price.
It is two stories with five units on each floor, with each unit having two bedrooms. Each unit is about 500 square feet in size.
“It looks like a Motel 6,” he said. “It is occupied.”
That would mean using a phased approach of not renewing the leases.
“It could house up to 20 people,” he said. “It is an apartment building.”