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Willis Cruse House future is uncertain

Posted at 11:19 AM, Sep 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-29 13:19:15-04

HELENA – The future of one of Helena’s only shelters for homeless veteran men is in jeopardy after its primary source of funding is about to be cut off.

The Willis Cruse House, situated in a Helena west side neighborhood on Leslie Avenue, is a 12-bed transitional facility for homeless veteran men.

According to Desiree Bain, director of the Montana Veterans Foundation who manages the home, the Department of Veterans Affairs provided a grant to the Willis Cruse House for more than a decade. The VA paid a specific amount for each person that occupied the home.

“For every guy that stays here, I can bill the VA and they will reimburse. We’re always a month behind, but still, consistent funding,” Bain said.

However, that changed when the VA denied the application this year for the grant. Bain said the VA did not provide the transitional home with a reason for the denial.

That puts the future of residents at the home, like Donald Burley, into question. Burley is a disabled army veteran who formerly lived with a woman in Townsend, but he says that didn’t work out.

“Things didn’t work out, and I needed a place to go,” Burley said.

Burley found it hard to qualify for most places to live because of his income, and he was put on waiting lists.

Eventually, he found Willis Cruse. Burley said it was the outpouring of support, particularly from staff at the house, that helped him focus not just on his mental health, but his failing physical health.

“When I moved in, my health condition was so bad I probably wouldn’t be around,” Burley said.

It’s a similar story for Gurney Lee Garrett, an Air Force veteran recently released from prison. The prison released Garrett to Willis Cruse for rehabilitation. Garrett said the home has provided him with a place to get back on his feet.

“I got real social fears. Social anxiety. It’s hard for me to go out in public. So here, I feel calm and peaceful,” Garrett said.

Bain is fighting to keep the house open and keep services running for the veterans who live there.

“The community so needs this. Without us there’s nothing. There’s no back up plan besides God’s Love and they are already so over capacity all the time,” Bain said.

While the VA grant ends at the end of September, if another grant isn’t secured, Bain said she’ll be back on the street going door to door asking for donations.

Bain said walk-in donations are welcome at the home located at 1112 Leslie Avenue in Helena. You can also donate online and learn more about the organization by clicking here.

  • Reported by Jacob Fuhrer