BEACON PHOTO/NOAH HERTZ HAPPY TO HELP — American Legion Post 6 Chaplain David Schlemmer and Service Officer Tom Jackson smile for a photo at the post’s headquarters at 1087 Biscayne Blvd. in DeLand. In addition to lending a hand in the community, the American Legion post hosts a number of events like its Monday dinner and bingo, Taco Tuesday and Friday fish dinner.

A nonprofit organization with fewer resources than many others is doing its best for local veterans who need a hand-up.

American Legion Post 6, based at 1087 Biscayne Blvd. in DeLand, doesn’t have much money, but the post makes up for that by how much its members care about fellow veterans.

Post Service Officer Tom Jackson gets 10-15 calls every week from people in the community looking for help. Many aren’t based in the DeLand post’s area, and some aren’t even veterans, but he always tries to give them the right information to get them what they need.

One of those calls came recently from Michael Smith, a born-and-raised DeLandite who had to leave his longtime residence after increases in his rent and disagreements with his landlord.

Smith’s VA pension benefits were just $1,300 per month, so when rent and expenses for the unit he had rented for years increased to $1,000 he didn’t know what he was going to do. He had to leave.

With a fixed income, diabetes and a bad back, Smith knew he was pretty much stuck.

“You end up being depressed, you end up feeling like there’s no hope because you look at rent prices and thinking, ‘What am I gonna do?’” Smith told The Beacon. “I’m going to take my wheelchair, and I’m going to go out in the woods. I’ve got a hammock I can put between two trees … and what, just fade away?”

Smith tried calling several organizations looking for help, but he wasn’t able to find much in the way of immediate support. As a last-ditch effort, Smith called the local American Legion post.

“He reached out and said he needed help,” Post 6’s Tom Jackson said.

Because the cost of living — and gas, rent and groceries — has stayed high since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackson said he anticipates more and more people, veterans or otherwise, living on fixed incomes will find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

When Jackson was able to confirm that Michael Smith was an Air Force veteran, Jackson and the rest of the post leapt into action.

Mike Smith

Meet Mike
Born and raised in DeLand, Michael Smith is a DeLand High School graduate from the Class of 1966.
Smith remembers Old DeLand. His father, he said, owned a doughnut shop right next door to the Athens Theatre. He enjoyed spending time there, he said, and a common customer was then-Athens Theatre Director Joe Fleishel.
After graduating from DHS, Smith joined the Air Force and shipped off to Taiwan. There, he worked in a communications role during the Vietnam War.
He moved around a bit after that, spending time on Florida’s west coast. Smith worked many jobs where he used his hands — mechanic work, carpentry — but when he hurt his back in the mid-2000s, he retired.
After a few more years in the Clearwater area, Smith moved back to his hometown in DeLand.
He’s lived here ever since, and now that Smith doesn’t have to worry about potentially becoming homeless, he’s hoping to relax and help out where he can.
“I want to just enjoy my time, whether it’s 10 minutes or 10 years,” he said.

With help from Post Chaplain David Schlemmer and his church, Crosswalk Church of Deltona, they raised enough money to put Smith up at the DeLand Motel — the owner of the motel even extended Smith’s stay past what the post could pay for.

It wasn’t glamorous, but it was better than nothing, Jackson said. Income-based apartments in the area are all full.

“Here on the west side, we don’t have any direct veterans locations that have any kind of veteran priority,” Jackson said.

While Smith stayed at the motel, Jackson and Schlemmer got to work.

Helping him hasn’t been easy, but the two men knew Smith was a good guy, and they wanted to help.

“He’s been such an inspiration to me,” Schlemmer said.

Once Jackson got to know Smith, the situation got personal.

Turns out, Jackson said, he went to the same church as Smith’s family and went to the same school as Smith’s younger brother. The two played basketball and were in the band together at DeLand High School.

“Now I’m really sucked into his plight,” Jackson said with a laugh. “It’s not just a veteran. It’s a veteran and a family friend.”

Working hard to help Smith, Schlemmer got ahold of an electric scooter through a member of his church. Jackson located a more permanent housing option — a rented room in a home that rents rooms to older people in DeLand. Jackson was even able to help Smith get his Social Security benefits, which raised his fixed monthly income.

After two weeks at the motel, it was time for Smith to move again.

As of Aug. 4, Smith is living in his new place — a room in a home right here in DeLand. It’s not perfect, he said, but it is affordable.

“I would like a little different place, but this gives me time to be able to do that,” Smith said. “That’s the important thing. I’m not out in the woods or in a cardboard box somewhere.”

It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the American Legion as well as the support lent by other nonprofit organizations that help veterans, like Tunnels to Towers, a nonprofit organization that benefits homeless veterans and other first responders.

“I was amazed,” Smith told The Beacon. “If I hired a moving company, I couldn’t afford that. To get these volunteers like this, I was absolutely flabbergasted. I was amazed.”

And, now that he doesn’t have to worry about his housing, Smith’s looking forward to getting more involved with the American Legion.

“Tom and I have become friends with this help he’s given me and everything. I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” he said. “It brought me hope, it dragged me out of that despair. I’m so much happier now.”

The numbers tell the story
1.5 million
The number of veterans reported living in the state of Florida as of 2020. In 2021, Florida was estimated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to be the state with the third-highest veterans population in the country. Florida is also among the states with the largest population of homeless veterans.
The number of Floridians experiencing homelessness in the 2023 point-in-time count conducted by the Florida Council on Homelessness. This statistic comes from volunteers across the state of Florida counting the number of homeless individuals on the night of Jan. 3, 2023. The point-in-time count is a means of getting a random sampling and does not provide an exact number of people experiencing homelessness.
The number of Floridians of the 30,809 observed homeless individuals who were military veterans. This is an increase over the number of homeless veterans observed the prior three years.
The number of people in Volusia and Flagler counties experiencing homelessness in the 2023 point-in-time count conducted by the Commission on Homelessness and Housing for Volusia & Flagler Counties. Of those 1,053 people, 992 were observed in Volusia County.
The number of veterans experiencing homelessness in Volusia and Flagler counties as observed during the 2023 point-in-time count. Of those veterans, 84 percent were men, 3 percent had families and 26 percent were chronically homeless, defined by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development as someone who has been without a home for at least one year or on four separate occasions in three years.
The point-in-time counts aren’t perfect, and the number of people experiencing homelessness — veterans or otherwise — is almost certainly larger than the numbers obtained during the point-in-time counts.

Want to lend a hand?

A lot of the funds the American Legion post in DeLand had dried up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But once people started to hear about Mike Smith’s story, locals began calling the post asking how they could help.

As Chaplain David Schlemmer builds out the post’s new website at www., a new online donation link is live. Funds go straight to the post, and Service Officer Tom Jackson hopes that donations will allow them to build a reserve of gas cards and food gift cards so the post can better help members of the community who need it most.

You can donate at the post’s website, here:



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here