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Detroit — Panic rose in David Addison as fire ripped through the transitional home where he and three fellow military veterans were staying.

"We were shocked there for a minute," said Addison, 63, recalling the blaze last month that destroyed the building on Detroit's west side. "We thought one of the guys was trapped upstairs."

None of the four men was injured, but the Nov. 14 fire destroyed all of their possessions and killed a service dog belonging to one of the veterans.

With winter approaching, the veterans faced the prospect of homelessness.

But an official with Michigan's AmeriCorps chapter felt something had to be done and coordinated a campaign to find the men a new place to live.

Bill Mowder, veterans resource navigator for AmeriCorps, the national service organization, spoke to his contacts and found a rental house near Wyoming Avenue and Joy Road for the four vets.

"He's an old Navy guy, and he offered to put in a new refrigerator, a new stove and whatever else the house needed to pass inspection at no cost," Mowder said of the landlord. "The next day, we got the VA in there and the next night they were living there."

Addison and his comrades are grateful.

"Things have worked out," Addison said last week as he showed a visitor the group's new quarters. "We're over here and we're trying to put our lives back together."

Even before the fire, the four veterans had experienced plenty of hardship. Each of them has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorders. Addison has been homeless before.

They were staying in a house in the 20000 block of Oakfield, near Eight Mile and the Southfield Freeway, operated by Emmanuel House. The Detroit nonprofit used the home to help veterans transition from living in a shelter to living independently.

Ben Elliott, 46, one of Addison's housemates, said he saw flames coming from the building as he arrived home Nov. 14.

Elliott, a Navy vet who served in the first Gulf War, said all he could think about was his dog, Cookie, one of two service dogs in the home.

"We've been through a lot together and she's helped me a lot," he said. "I was worried, but then someone told me she got out and someone had her in a car."

No strangers to danger, the four men tried to douse the fire and rescue Little Man, a service dog trapped on the house's second level, said the Rev. Timothy Thompson, Emmanuel House's founder and executive director.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze, which officials say was suspicious in origin, but the house was lost. So were Little Man and everything the four veterans owned.

"It was very traumatic for all of them," Thompson said. "The vet who lost his dog couldn't stop crying for three days. He had it since it was a puppy; it was his only family."

Representatives from the Red Cross arrived, bringing the men blankets and comfort kits. They also called Mowder.

The night of the fire, Mowder contacted Emmanuel House to offer help. Mena Poole, the nonprofit's veterans coordinator, told him they needed a place for the four vets to live, she said.

Mowder, an Air Force veteran who served in both the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, spoke to his contacts.

His search paid off. The veterans got their new home. They've also got two new housemates: Rodney Gray, 58, an Air Force vet, and his dog, Buddy.

Three weeks after the move, Elliott said he likes the new place.

"It's got some quirks and we're getting used to it," he said. "But it's got a backyard for Cookie and that's something we really like."

Homeless veterans accounted for just over 12 percent of all homeless adults in the United States last year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

In Michigan, an estimated 1,100 veterans were homeless last year, according to HUD.

"When I started Emmanuel House 19 years ago, there wasn't any funding to help homeless vets, but there was a big need," Thompson said. "There's still a great need." 222-2058

Helping Metro Detroit's veterans

Emmanuel House provides veterans with transitional housing if they're homeless as well as substance abuse recovery programs, clinical services and career training.

To donate to or volunteer for the nonprofit, visit its website at or call Mena Poole, veteran coordinator, at (313) 270-4099.

Source: Emmanuel House

Michigan AmeriCorps

Administered by the Michigan Community Service Commission, the Michigan Chapter of the national service organization is seeking volunteers who are veterans to help other veterans in Metro Detroit.

For information or to volunteer, call Scott Nichols, veteran outreach program director, at (517) 664-9810 or email him at

Source: AmeriCorps

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