Dover home a remedy for homeless veterans


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Project manager Brandt Tue, left and Olivia Tue Smith, owner of the house, both of Dover, stand inside the patriotic living room at the newly refurbished home for veterans on Queen Street in Dover Wednesday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — As Michael Angeline determines how to move his life forward, he’ll do it from a comfortable living space while contemplating the next moves.

The 53-year-old former member of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” is thankful for the support of a longtime Dover family connected to Mayor Robin Christiansen’s 2015 Mayor’s Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness campaign.

After losing his family and HVAC business of 30 years, Mr. Angeline was in a homeless situation seemingly unimaginable in better times.

“I lost everything,” he said.

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Landlady Olivia Tue Smith of Dover, stands on the front porch of the newly refurbished home for veterans located on South Queen Street. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Enter Vietnam veteran Brandt Tue, a former United States Marine machine gunner and mechanic from Dover who was raised to always extend a helping hand. Mr. Tue and his aunt Olivia Tue Smith followed the family precedent and helped a person in need.

During a three-month stay at the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, Mr. Angeline’s life path intersected with Mr. Tue, who was committed to providing struggling veterans housing and a support system designed to further aid those attempting to re-stabilize themselves.

Mr. Tue was involved in the “Mayor’s Challenge” and determined to find three veterans to share Ms. Smith’s recently renovated family home in the 100 block of South Queen Street.

The search was tailored to veterans “trying to achieve something for themselves.” he said. “This is not a halfway house.

“Whoever comes here must be already clean and have an honorable discharge from the military.”

A tenant since November 2015, Mr. Angeline — who said he’s had two open-heart surgeries — receives daily visits from Mr. Tue to monitor his physical and mental well being. During a get-together earlier this week, a transport to Christiana Hospital ensued as the tenant appeared to be struggling with pneumonia.

Before heading north, Mr. Angeline said, “The Tue family is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

While Mr. Angeline does pay rent, he isn’t charged the going rate for an immaculately kept, furnished home that feels new in the downstairs area and includes roughly a quarter acre of land out back, Mr. Tue said.

Any interested veteran in need of housing can call 734-1286 or email for further information.

“All anyone needs to bring here is their clothes,” Mr. Tue said. “Everything else is here for them.”

Ms. Smith, who was born in the at least 100-year-old home’s upstairs bedroom, said her parents believed in caring for those in difficult situations, as Mr. Angeline found himself in.

“This is making him happy in heaven,” she said. “Mother supported his vision of always reaching out to help someone.

“I’m sure they’re both smiling as much as they can right now.”

On Jan. 20, the Veterans Welcome Home Team celebrated the placement of 50 homeless veterans, including some families, in stable residential environments, including 21 who were chronically homeless.

Bill Farley, vice chairman of the Commission of Veterans Affairs who oversaw the endeavor, credited a gathering of federal, state and local agencies for joining to address homelessness among veterans, along with various nonprofit and charity organizations.

“We feel this is the template not only for the Dover area but it might be the best way to address homelessness as best we can,” Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said.

According to Mr. Farley, the state housed 198 veterans during its own concurrent push in 2015.

Homelessness continues

The issue is hardly solved, however, and Mr. Farley described the homeless population as a “moving target” due to constantly changing life circumstances. Each week, a couple veterans seek help from the Delaware Veterans Trust Fund designed to be a bridge for financial emergencies, he said.

“Today there might be a vet who loses his job for whatever reason,” Mr. Farley said. “The number of homeless can also be affected by how the economy is going at the time.”

Mr. Tue believes there are still 50 or so homeless veterans in the Dover area, some living near railroad tracks that cut through the city, others bunking down under a bridge over the St. Jones River.

The mission to assist the residentially placed veterans with a support system to receive benefits, care, and capacity to re-establish a work history continues, Mr. Christiansen said.

“These efforts were not meant to just warehouse the veterans who now have homes,” he said. “The plan is to coordinate services, help them find jobs so that they will not remain chronically homeless.”

The guiding force of the collaborative group was simple, Mr. Christiansen said.

“We felt it was unconscionable for veterans who served and protected our country to be out on the street when they left the military,” he said.

Understanding the plight

The first time he attended a group meeting, Mr. Tue said he wanted to be the “grunt, the person out in the field reaching the real-life stories and making a difference.”

While surrounded with organizations and “acronyms,” Mr. Tue said he brought a realistic perspective to what everyone aimed to improve.

“I wanted them to have a flavor of what veterans feel and what they are going through,” he said. “I wanted them to understand that veterans are more than just a number.”

Mr. Tue said he needed at least 11 years to “get his feet on the ground” after receiving help from the Veterans Affairs branch in Wilmington, after going roughly three decades without a diagnosis. He graduated from Delaware State College during the time and worked many years for the Mobile Oil Corporation, but something never felt quite right about his emotional existence.

Thus, Mr. Tue said he knows turmoil in a veteran when he sees it, and is committed to helping find solutions after identify.

“I can tell whether they have something they need to take care of just a short time after meeting them,” he said.

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