Helping veterans

WILLISTON Iraq war veteran Michael Shaw and his organization, The Guardian’s Foundation, Inc., are reaching out to veterans in the Bakken area.

Shaw, founder and executive director of the Guardians Foundation Inc., based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, helps veterans with housing and other necessary needs while the veterans look for work in the Bakken area in North Dakota and Montana.

“We are one of largest providers of shelter for homeless veterans in the United States and we are the largest provider of shelter for homeless veterans in the Bakken area,” said Shaw in an interview last week.

“We are currently housing homeless veterans who were homeless here. Within just the last few days, we’re up to 14 (veterans),” Shaw said.

He said the organization’s currently contracting with Great American Lodge in Trenton for housing homeless veterans.

“We have a reduced rate for these veterans. We pull them out of their cars or whatever crazy situation they’re in and we put them in a stable environment so they can negotiate the employment opportunities afforded to them here in the Bakken,” Shaw said.

Shaw said he started his research about the Bakken area last September and the organization opened its first permanent location in the Williston area on April 4.

The organization has its headquartered at the Great American Lodge, a 350-bed crew camp. “They’re allocating up to 49 rooms for our organization,” Shaw said.

He said many veterans are coming to the Bakken region with basically their last hope to find work and, for some, with their last funds.

“They’re behind on their mortgages or just in an upside down situation and leaving their families to come to the area just to save the day,” he said. But, he said, they arrive in the Bakken area ill equipped to negotiate all the opportunities. “Some are taking jobs and it might not be a good fit,” he said.

What we do is we supply them with 30 days of a stable environment when they can make the best decisions for themselves. We also determine whether or not they are a good fit for the area. Some of the individuals, quite frankly, just don’t have the ability to survive in this environment,” Shaw said. They also help them leave the area if that is the best decision for them.

Shaw brought to North Dakota a team of 16 people including himself. He said they first stood in front of local businesses passing out information about their nonprofit organization which resulted in several veterans turning to them for services.

“Just by doing that we were able to create awareness and create self referrals just by letting the community know that we are here and ready to receive these individuals.

He said the organization also receives referrals from the Veterans Administration in Williston, the county Veterans Service officer and the local police department.

“We try to give them 30 days to find employment. After 30 days we believe there are underlying issues keeping them from getting employment,” Shaw said, naming issues including alcohol, laziness and felonies.

“Williston is not a town to create a rescue shelter in our belief. Williston needs employable individuals. If a gentleman or female cannot find work in 30 days, they need to take a really hard look at what they’re true intent is why they’re in Williston,” Shaw said.

Shaw, a member of the Idaho National Guard, has served in Iraq. After returning from serving there, Shaw planned to set up a program to take veterans fishing in Idaho. But after receiving funds from donors, he decided the money from the donors would be better spent helping homeless veterans. His organization now operates seven facilities in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

He said about 30 homeless veterans stay in each of the seven facilities on any given night.

Shaw said the veterans they have met have come to the Bakken area from all over.

“They’ve come from Louisiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, Montana, Minnesota all points in the world,” he said.

“Here’s the thing. We believe that we can create a platform where we can send out a flash to every VSO (veterans service officer) in every county across the nation and let them know that there’s an opportunity for veterans, with the right skills, to come to the Bakken and know that there’s a safe place to negotiate employment opportunities,” Shaw said.

He added, “What I want to convey is that it’s a win for the employer, it’s definitely a win for the veteran, it’s a way for society here to get these guys out of their cars,” referring to those who have no place to go but sleep in their vehicles. He said a trip to the Bakken area usually is a several thousand dollar investment for a veteran.

He said companies are offering to the Guardians Foundation that they have jobs for veterans. “It’s not just in the oil-field industry, it’s also in the service industries the restaurants, hardware stores … It’s just an endless supply and demand, and the people are really reaching out to want to hire vets,” Shaw said.

Athea Neuenschwander and her husband, Marcellus, spent the past month or so as volunteers with Guardians Foundation in Williston.

The Neuenschwanders are originally from New Mexico and moved to Spokane, Wash., in October. “They found themselves homeless and called my organization,” Shaw said.

“We’re helping get the

organization here in Williston up and running,” Athea Neuenschwander said last week. “We’ve been working out in the field doing the fundraising because this organization helped us. They gave us enough time to get stable and now my husband has a job (in Spokane),” she said.

“My husband and I have taken two homeless veterans off the street ourselves while we were out fundraising (in the Bakken),” she said. She said one walked up to them and said, “Well, I’m a homeless veteran.” The veteran provided them some information and they gave it to Shaw for follow up.

The Neuenschwanders left Williston this past week to return to Spokane.

Shaw, referring to a story about neglected and abandoned properties in Minot published in the April 17 edition of The Minot Daily News, said the story has caught his attention. He hopes to expand his program to Minot and this week was contacting Minot city officials about the possibility of obtaining and renovating some of these homes.

“I see it as an excellent opportunity for our foundation to be in the Minot area,” Shaw said. He said he has 30 years experience as a civilian general contractor.

Shaw said he has made a two-year commitment to the Bakken area. “We’re going to reassess our programs in 18 months,” he said.