What started as a question from one military vet to another has sparked an outpouring of support and generosity in the community of Squamish, B.C.
Resident Jeremiah White was shopping at Walmart recently when he ran into a previous acquaintance – Orville Larsen.
White said he became concerned when he asked Larsen how things were going and the 81-year-old said “not great.”
Turns out Larsen has been living in his car in the Walmart parking lot for months.
When asked if it was hard, he said, “No. (It’s) mind over matter.
“I take it as it comes, I don’t complain, don’t grouch.”
The former military engineer who was posted in Chilliwack, Germany and New Brunswick and served for 11 years has since been living in Squamish for 21 years.
But when a dispute over rent increases with his landlord led to him being evicted, Larsen didn’t really have anywhere to go.
He did pack his belongings into trailers and moved them onto another piece of land, but Larsen said they were stolen.
“A year-and-a-half ago I lost all my stuff that I had collected up over the 50 years,” he said.
“This is all I have left,” he added, gesturing to the items in his car.
When White heard his story, he said he knew he had to do something.
He and his wife set up a GoFundMe for Larsen, hoping to raise a few thousand dollars and convert a van for him to live in.
But the campaign has taken off, raising more than $30,000 at the time of publication.
White said the local legion has chipped in and they have contacted Veterans Affairs for help.
Along with another military veteran, Corey Smith, they now have more than enough money to help Larsen find a new living space.
“It’s hard to see an 81-year-old human being, let alone a veteran, being in that situation,” Smith said.
Larsen’s new home will be a van with a bed, stove, sink, running water, lights, solar system, storage and a local company has offered to do the electrical work and heating work for the van, he added.
But the story won’t end there.
Smith said now they are setting their sights on the bigger picture, hoping to start an organization along the lines of Vans for Veterans to “keep helping more people.”
Apparently, that was Larsen’s idea.
White said Larsen is so humble and wants to help others more than himself.
“He’s thinking his needs are met, how can he help someone else, how can he keep this thing going?’
Now with their sights set on building this into a bigger project, White said they are being inundated with offers to help.
“We’re going to make a list of needs once we realize what those needs are,” he added. “We’re going to generate a list and say, ‘OK, who can kick in and who can’t?’ and go from there.
For Larsen, he knew he didn’t want to go into a home and risk losing his independence.
“That’s what I want to do when I get my van, go hunting and fishing all summer,” he said. “Independence. Live off the land.”
He told Global News he can’t wait for his new living space.
“Well, it’s going to be better than this,” he chuckled.