SHELBY — Lawrence James recently bought the Glacier Motel & RV park in Shelby. He’s letting military veterans stay here for free - that’s because he says they’ve already paid.
Self-proclaimed patriot James didn’t serve in the military, but that doesn’t diminish his passion for those who did: “I know that the rights I have in this country, come because of the veterans.”
While driving through Shelby, he noticed a "for sale by owner" sign on the Glacier Motel, and Veterans And Their Spouses Housing And Transportation Services - VATSHATS - was born.
Lawrence explained, “The slogan of VATSHATS is, it’s okay for America to save the world, but let’s take care of our own first.”
Currently, the property can house up to 14 veterans and their spouses. Ultimately, Lawrence would like to see that number grow to 60.
To pay for the ambitious project, James is counting on contributions and sales from his First Amendment Patriot store featuring flags, hats, and bumper stickers that pay tribute to the military, first responders, and more.
And while his conservative values are also whipping in the Hi-Line wind, he wants to remind people of all political beliefs that this is for veterans.
Lawrence said, “Anybody, any veterans, liberal or conservative, is welcome to stay here. We don’t shove our values down anyone’s throat. That’s why it’s called the First Amendment store.”
Right now, veterans can stay for up to 28 days. James says anything longer would require him to hire additional staff, such as a nurse.
“I’ve made arrangements with the big hotels down the street and down the road to take our veterans there for a couple of days. Long enough for the long-term housing period to transpire and we bring them right back,” he said.
James has big plans for the property including building 10 handicap-accessible trailers in the RV park in back.
He also wants to complete the purchase of four adjoining cabins and a large building that can be used for a kitchen area, rec room, and lounge.
James' time as a signature gatherer registering people to vote opened his eyes to how many homeless veterans are out there: “All over the country, at each and every one of those skid rows, a large majority of the homeless on skid row are veterans. And that is what gave me my niche, that is my knack.”
For more information, click here to visit the VATSHATS website.