The county’s code compliance officers could have continued to cite a property owner on Stock Island, where a ramshackle RV sat illegally on a messy lot, housing a man who has lived in the Keys for nearly 50 years and has owned that lot for more than 40 years.
The code fines would have accrued and Ken “Bulldog” Julian, 87, would have worried endlessly about where he would go.
But that’s not what happened.
Upon learning that Julian is a veteran, the county’s code compliance director, Cynthia McPherson, contacted Cathy Crane, director of Monroe County Veterans Affairs — and a veteran herself.
Crane got to work. She confirmed Julian’s military service record, then got in touch with the local nonprofit Homes for Veterans, founded by builder Joe Cleghorn, who recently tapped renowned musician CW Colt as its volunteer CEO.
Within a few months, plans were in place to construct a new stilt home on Julian’s Stock Island property, at no cost to him.
“Mr. Julian has owned the property for decades and always lived in a trailer on it,” Crane said. “His trailer was heavily damaged in Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Then he put an Airstream on it, but that was hit by Hurricane Irma in 2017.”
In what Crane described as a “great collaboration,” the county’s VA office, the code office, public works and the solid waste department and others worked together to clear the lot so pilings could be installed for the house, Crane said.
“Mr. Julian is very humble. He kept saying he didn’t deserve a new house. But I explained that every veteran who has honorably served in the U.S. military is entitled to receive consideration and assistance for benefits they have earned through their service to our country,” Crane said. “All five of Bulldog’s brothers also had served — Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. He said there was never any question that he would, too. He served in the Air Force from 1954 to 1958, and worked in medical supply at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where he received the Good Conduct Medal.”
“Bulldog,” as he introduces himself, despite the two tiny Maltese dogs that don’t leave his side, didn’t believe what was happening.
“I didn’t know what to think. I’m used to living rough,” he told the Keys Weekly.
In fact, he initially feared he was being scammed. But Deacon Peter Batty at St. Mary’s, where Bulldog attends daily Mass, assured him Homes for Veterans was not a scam.
He’s getting used to the idea of the new yellow house on stilts that’s now awaiting interior work — wiring, drywall, flooring, cabinets and appliances.
That’s where Colt and Cleghorn hope the community can help, or rather, continue to help.
“Rick Minelli donated engineering services. Contractor Don Miller is building it at cost,” Cleghorn said, crediting his daughter, Katie Cleghorn, for contributing the first $50,000. “The Toppinos gave us the concrete. Paul Kohler gave us a great discount on air-conditioning and Manley deBoer is giving us really generous terms on the lumber.”
But the next steps are crucial for Colt’s and Cleghorn’s goal of having Bulldog moved in by Christmas.
“We’re gonna try like hell to give him a home for Christmas,” Cleghorn said, standing in the home’s unfinished interior.
Colt has established a GoFundMe account that describes the current Homes for Veterans project.
“One of our own, a veteran, Ken “Bulldog” Julian, faces a struggle no hero should. His current living situation is in a dilapidated RV — conditions none of us would wish upon our bravest souls. The time for change is now, and we need your valor to make it happen.
“We are rallying the troops to transform a frame into a home with the necessary amenities to live with dignity. This isn’t just about building a house; it’s about restoring a serviceman’s pride.
“Our goal is to hand Ken the keys to his new home before the Christmas lights twinkle. …
“A donation from you can hammer a nail, paint a wall and light a home. Share our GoFundMe with family, friends, colleagues — anyone with a heart for heroes. … Stand with me. Stand with Bulldog. Stand with all our veterans.”