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He Built A T-Shirt Empire. Now He’s Building A Village For Homeless Vets
In the city of Savannah, Georgia, an Army veteran and entrepreneur has a plan to end veteran homelessness in his community. It starts with building a village of tiny homes.
"The idea that any of us could be homeless at any given point in time, just one paycheck away, it resonates," Tyler Merritt, a former Apache pilot and special operations air mission commander, told Task & Purpose.
Merritt is behind the veterans village project, which is aiming to create as many as 24 single-occupant tiny homes in Savannah, Georgia. It's spearheaded by the Nine Line Foundation, a veterans charity he founded as an off-shoot from his company, Nine Line Apparel.
"I've been damn near bankrupt and upside down, one paycheck away, just like everyone else," said Merritt, the CEO of Nine Line Apparel. Founded in 2012, the popular veterans' clothing company has recorded approximately $70 million in sales since it began, and roughly $24 million in just the last year, a spokesman for Nine Line told Task & Purpose.
"If you lose your family and friends and hit rock bottom, there still has to be some organization out there that can give a hand up, not a hand out."
To date, they've raised roughly $300,000 to support the initiative and built 10 tiny homes, with the goal of moving in occupants within the next several months, and plan to construct the remaining buildings by year's end, Merritt told Task & Purpose.
The idea is to use the village as transitional housing where the participants can partner with counselors and career coaches, and eventually find gainful employment, before moving into a place of their own.
"If I provided 50 permanent structures, it puts a dent, but it doesn't cycle people through, it's not sustainable," he said. "There's something about earning that makes it so it's worthwhile. They'll find meaning in getting up in the day because they have a job."
A tiny home created by the Nine Line Foundation.Photo courtesy of Nine Line Foundation
In the past, the foundation has built custom homes for severely wounded veterans, focusing on helping one person at a time, "to help them return to some sense of normalcy," Merritt explained.
But the individuals they were helping in those cases already had a built-in support network of friends and family, Merritt said. "The individuals that we're dealing with now, have none."
"For us, the first step is getting an individual off the street," Merritt said, before adding that "it's housing first, not housing only."
Nine Line Foundation is partnering with Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless on its veteran village initiative, along with Georgia Southern University, which will provide vocational training and career counseling, Merritt said.
Local nonprofits and businesses have rogered up to provide food and clothing to the program, and the initiative's sponsors include the Joe Marchese Commercial Construction & Development, The Josh Reddick Foundation, Coca-Cola, Blu Site Solutions, and Food Lion.
Tyler Merritt, CEO of Nine Line Apparel and the founder of the Nine Line Foundation.Photo courtesy of Nine Line Foundation
To make all this work, Merritt said he intends to pass on the federal funding typically set aside for homeless initiatives in favor of volunteer-work, donations, collaboration between charities, fundraisers, and sponsorship.
"The [Department of Housing and Urban Development] has its initiatives and there's other philanthropic organizations that mean well, but we're not a socialist country," Merritt said. "It doesn't work."
The plan to go at it without federal assistance is ambitious, and it's not without risk, especially when you consider the scope: It's not just housing. They intend to provide food, clothing, as well as job-training and counseling, and hope to have self-sustaining hydroponic and aquaponic farming on site.
"There's a lot of people who say this isn't a self-sustaining model," Merritt told Task & Purpose. "We don't know. This is a theory... What I believe, and what the government is starting to understand is that these issues have to be solved on a community level, specifically on a local level."
On the whole, veteran homelessness is on the decline. A Nov. 1, 2018 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that the number of homeless veterans in the United States has dropped by 5.4% since 2017, and by nearly half since 2010.
Though the veterans village model is more expansive than the "one individual at a time" approach the foundation has taken in the past, there's a limit on how many people can participate in the program at a time, as well as who is eligible.
"We're going after the veteran population, one: because it resonates with me, and two: these individuals have proved themselves mentally and physically capable of holding a job," Merritt said. "There's a screening process to become a veteran."
Nine Line Foundation volunteers help construct a tiny home for the foundation's veterans village initiative in Savannah, Georgia.Photo courtesy of Nine Line Foundation
To live in the veterans village, participants will need proof of their military service in the form of a DD-214, and those with a Dishonorable Discharge will have their cases reviewed by the foundation's board, but Merritt stressed that "so long as they're not a threat to the population, or committed some egregious crime, then they'd be considered," adding "there's good people who have made bad choices."
When it comes to selecting who will participate in the program, Merritt said the approach is akin to triage.
"If we've got a hundred applicants for 10 spots then, the question becomes: Do you have the markers of success?" he asked. "If there's individuals who are enthusiastic, who have some abilities to allow them to transition through this program faster, then we're going to help them first."
"If I focus my attention on 10 individuals who I can get off the street in twelve months, and transition them to a job that affords them the ability to pay for an apartment, excellent," Merritt continued. "Then I can go get another person."
Correction Feb. 3, 2019: An earlier version of this article stated that Nine Line Apparel made $24 million in sales since it was founded in 2012. The company recorded more than $70 million in sales since it was founded, and $24 million in 2018.
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Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.
"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.
"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."
The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.
On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.
Trump orders dismissal of murder charge against former Green Beret accused of killing a suspected Taliban bomb maker
President Donald Trump has ended the decade-long saga of Maj. Matthew Golsteyn by ordering a murder charge against the former Green Beret dismissed with a full pardon.
The Army charged Golsteyn with murder in December 2018 after he repeatedly acknowledged that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn's charge sheet identifies the man as "Rasoul."
President Donald Trump has signed a full pardon for former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed.
Lorance will now be released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence.
"He has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence he received. Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress," said a White House statement released Friday.
"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"
Additionally, Trump pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was to go on trial for murder charges next year, and restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was found not guilty of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner but convicted of taking an unauthorized photo with the corpse.
Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth first announced on Nov. 4 that the president was expected to intervene in the Lorance case was well as exonerate Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who has been charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom he believed was a Taliban bomb maker, and restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank to E-7.
For the past week, members of Lorance's family and his legal team have been holding a constant vigil in Kansas anticipating his release, said Lorance's attorney Don Brown.
Now that he has been exonerated of committing a war crime, Lorance wants to return to active duty, Brown told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.
"He loves the Army," Brown said prior to the president's announcement. "He doesn't have any animosity. He's hoping that his case – and even his time at Leavenworth – can be used for good to deal with some issues regarding rules of engagement on a permanent basis so that our warfighters are better protected, so that we have stronger presumptions favoring warfighters and they aren't treated like criminals on the South Side of Chicago."
In the Starz documentary "Leavenworth," Lorance's platoon members discuss the series of events that took place on July 2, 2012, when the two Afghan men were killed during a patrol in Kandahar province.They claim that Lorance ordered one of his soldiers to fire at three Afghan men riding a motorcycle. The three men got off their motorcycle and started walking toward Afghan troops, who ordered them to return to their motorcycle.
At that point, Lorance ordered the turret gunner on a nearby Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to shoot the three men, according to the documentary. That order was initially ignored, but the turret gunner eventually opened fire with his M-240, killing two of the men.
But Lorance told the documentary makers that his former soldiers' account of what happened was "ill-informed."
"From my experience of what actually went down, when my guy fired at it, and it kept coming, that signified hostile intent, because he didn't stop immediately," Lorance said in the documentary's second episode.
Brown argues that not only is Lorance innocent of murder, he should never have been prosecuted in the first case.
"He made a call and when you look at the evidence itself, the call was made within a matter of seconds," Brown said "He would make that call again."
The new Call of Duty Modern Warfare takes gaming to a new level. In fact, it's the best damn video game of 2019 (in my humble opinion).
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