MANCHESTER, NH — Keith Howard says it’s “a piece of surrealism,” that his tiny Liberty House outreach for homeless veterans made the short list of benefactors of Donald Trump’s pop-up counter-debate fundraiser.
But as of 6 a.m. Friday, Howard saw it in black-and-white, on the newly created donaldtrumpforvets.com site, where the list was posted following the Donald’s fundraiser, which has so far raised about $6 million, according to the site.
“It started Thursday when I got a call from a Col. Stuart Jolly, who said he was calling on behalf of the Trump Foundation. They were wanting to know whether Liberty House would be willing to accept money from the Trump Foundation,” said Howard, who is the organization’s executive director.
It was a valid question for Howard, who recently made the decision to give up a $40,000 federal funding stream because it requires places like Liberty House, currently a sober-living facility, to open their doors to those still actively using drugs or alcohol. Howard says the Liberty House mission to support veterans in their sobriety is too important to compromise for the money.
“I told Col. Jolly I was wary of saying ‘yes’ without knowing the conditions, or whether there were strings attached. He assured me there were none,” says Howard.
Jolly did ask about overhead, as in whether Liberty House’s overhead is closer to 15 or 50 percent.
“I said depending on how you evaluate overhead in a non-profit, there’s no way we are anywhere near 50 percent, but I think 15-20 is in the ballpark — for instance, a case manager’s salary working full time — is that overhead or program money?,” Howard says.
After the initial phone call, Howard did his due diligence by reversing the call to see if the whole thing was legit — and then poking around on Google to see if there really is a Col. Jolly who could be handing out money on behalf of Trump.
“I wanted to make sure I hadn’t just been punked,” says Howard.
Sure enough, Jolly answered the phone, and Google confirmed Jolly is an Oklahoma Republican and former Americans for Prosperity state director, with ties to Trump.
Howard also says he had no idea whether the nearly $6 million would be distributed equally among the 22 organizations, although he noted that after viewing the list, it appears they are all small, grassroots outreaches.
“I figure they’ll use some sort of process to divide the money up. I don’t think they’ll split it 22 ways,” says Howard. “But I just did the math: $6 million divided by 22 is about $272,000 each.”
That kind of money would go a long way to meet the immediate and tangible needs of Manchester’s homeless population, beyond veterans, says Howard.
Not the least of which could include a pet project launched last spring by Liberty House: field-testing whether tiny sustainable homes for veterans could work in New Hampshire. Howard has been the guinea pig, living in a converted storage trailer since last April.
“Yes, the tiny house project could be one place that money could be directed, but remember we’re talking about hypothetical money on a hypothetical timeline at this point,” Howard says.
Sure enough, there is some buzz in the aftermath of Trump’s counter-strike against the televised FOX-TV debate, that the money raised technically goes to the Trump Foundation, which is primarily sustained by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) events according to the Washington Post.
Some veterans organizations are crying foul, saying Trump is simply using their causes as political theater, not only in his dust-up with FOX-News and Megyn Kelly, but in the crucial weeks before the nation heads to the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire (there is also an Iowa veterans organization on the list, Mulberry Street Veterans Shelter.)
For now, it’s going to be a que sera, sera situation for Howard and the Liberty House. He has work to do, and intends to keep doing it, with or without any cash dump from Trump.
He’ll believe it all once the check is in the bank.
“We are pleased at the promise of these funds, but without knowing amounts or timetable, my concern is that our very generous and caring local base of support should not get the impression somehow that Liberty House is rolling in cash and doesn’t need their continued support, because we absolutely do,” Howard says.
“We provide food and clothing, not only to our veterans, but also for all of Manchester’s needy. That said, we are a small grassroots organization, not a fundraising organization. We have to meet a budget, but we’re not here to make money; we’re here to meets needs,” he says.
Getting a windfall from the Trump Foundation will have no influence over Liberty House, politically speaking.
“I’m sure they do lots of wonderful things, but the fact that they are headed by a candidate for president of the United States doesn’t change the fact that we do not support any candidate. On Sunday Lindsay Graham will be here on behalf of Jeb Bush. Accepting this would not be an endorsement of any particular candidate,” Howard says.
“We are very happy to be doing what we do, and would not want to stop doing what we do just because of an influx of money. There are people out there who are cold and hungry and shivering,” says Howard. “We’re here to meet those needs, not pile up money.”