On any given night, more than 37,000 veterans are homeless in the United States. This is no way to treat our citizens who served to protect our lives and liberties.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male (91%), single, urban dwellers, and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse.
About 45% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, even though they represent, respectively, only 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population. Homeless vets are typically younger than the average veteran population, too.
Another 1.4 million other veterans are deemed at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and bleak living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.
Concerned and caring citizens across the land are coming together to help solve the homeless crisis afflicting American veterans. Their solution: build clusters of tiny houses to create new communities for those with military service records to call home.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a case in point. The city dedicated a 7-acre tract of land to develop a tiny home village for vets. On November 10, 2019, Mayor Tom Barrett tweeted:
“In honor of Veterans’ Day tomorrow, I will sign a zoning file authorizing the development of land benefitting homeless veterans in Milwaukee.”
Project leader Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin said the “homeless recovery program” was designed to assist veterans struggling with simple survival.
Milwaukee’s veterans’ village, slated for completion in July 2020, will feature 42 houses measuring an average 240sqft at the land located at 6767 N. 60th Street. A 10,000-square-foot community center, equipped with restrooms, a kitchen, a washer and dryer, and pool tables will create a safe space where veterans can gather for social activities.
Fiona Murphy, director of development at Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, said that the key to successful recovery from the cycles of poverty and addiction is “human connection.” Residents will be able to socialize when they like but close their own door when they prefer some alone-time at home.
The idea is to give homeless vets a transitional place to stay for as much as a couple of years while they treat their medical issues and acquire the resources to live independently.
Racine already boasts 15 tiny houses of about 120sqft and has “graduated” nine veterans since the project started in November 2017.
Kansas City, Missouri, opened its Veterans Village on a 5-acre lot at 89th Street and Troost Avenue in January 2018. Thirteen homeless veterans moved into furnished tiny houses for 6-12 months.
Marvin Gregory, who served in the Army National Guard and the Coast Guard, said he was thrilled by the prospect of having private digs, no matter how small:
“Today is a momentous day for me. I’m very happy. These guys have been great. Now I’m going to have my own house and my own keys…I haven’t felt this comfortable in years. This is a mansion compared to a Marine barracks you’re sharing with someone else.”
The KC Veterans Village bans all alcohol in the units. This didn’t phase Marine vet Kyle Hanssen (34) who survived combat in Iraq only to return stateside in 2008 “angry at the world.” After unpacking his Bible, several other books, and his clothing, Hanssen inspected the bathroom. Standing at the sink, the Marine became emotional:
“I started crying when I opened up this drawer. There were my four toothbrushes.”
The Kansas City Veterans Community Project was founded by Chris Stout, an Army veteran; Kevin Jamison, a Marine veteran; and Mark Solomon, a Navy reservist. The idea of creating a support community for homeless veterans grew from the initial vision of providing a “one-stop shop” where vets could get counseling and mentoring for recovery coupled with education to develop job skills.
These vets have a can-do attitude, bar none. Stout explained the philosophy behind their operation:
“We are the place that says ‘Yes’ first and figures everything else out later. We serve anybody who’s ever raised their hand to defend our Constitution.”
If you would like to assist homeless veterans who served the United States, contact the Veterans Community Project. This proactive organization “refuses to let any Veteran fall through the cracks. From providing housing to offering walk-in support services, we’re here for everyone who took the oath to serve America.”
From its roots in Kansas City, the Veterans Community Project is now expanding into seven more communities by 2022. The Longmont, Colorado, VCP is scheduled to open the doors of its 26 tiny houses and a Community Center for village residents in 2020.
If you are interested in starting a working group to bring VCP to your community, email [email protected] – and help those who served our great country.