Kansas City tiny homes being built by vets for vets
(Photo, from left: Veterans Community Project co-founders Mark Solomon, Chris Stout, and Kevin Jamison. Not pictured: Bryan Meyer and Brandonn Mixon.)
A village of 50 tiny homes under construction in Kansas City, Missouri will soon offer a place of refuge and new start for homeless veterans. A bed, kitchen, and bathroom – none larger than 240 sq. ft. – may be what some vets need to get their feet back on the ground.
“Tiny houses are a first step,” says Chris Stout, an Army veteran injured in Afghanistan who retired in 2007. He’s the co-founder of the nonprofit Veterans Community Project.
This year, there are an estimated 39,471 homeless veterans across the country, more than 13,000 of whom are unsheltered, according to the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development. Although the total number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless veterans decreased 17 percent from last year, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says the transient nature of homeless populations makes it difficult to reach exact numbers, and 1.4 million other veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and other factors.
The tiny homes in Veterans’ Village are expected to house 50 vets by March 2017, Stout says.
After his service, Stout and four other combat veterans (two Marines and another Army vet) with backgrounds in the nonprofit and legal sectors recognized the urgent need to help homeless veterans.
Through individual donations and partnerships, the first ten homes should be finished in the next 30 or 45 days, Stout says. They have yet to complete the infrastructure of the village and to bring on a case manager to help sift through the applications of veterans who hope to live in the small homes.
Stout often received calls from veterans at his former nonprofit job and tried to connect them to resources, often with the help of other veterans. That’s how he met Kevin Jamison, one of the co-founders of Veterans Community Project.
“Through that entire process, we realized there was a big gap in services,” Stout says. “A nonprofit often closes each weekday at 4 p.m. and is not open over the weekend. Services are not there 24/7, and homelessness happens 24/7.”
Stout recalls one marine and his children who were evicted from their home before Memorial Day weekend.
“The landlord is throwing all his stuff outside, and it was raining,” says Stout, who rented a U-Haul to gather the vet’s belongings and helped him get settled.
“We rented a hotel room for this guy through Memorial Day, because all of the nonprofits were closed for the holiday weekend,” Stout says.
It was a heartbreaking and eye-opening experience that spurred the creation of Veterans’ Village.
“We need to create a place that’s open all the time, so we’re not sticking people in shelters,” Stout says.
While the tiny homes being constructed can only house so many, Stout hopes to build a 7,000-sq. ft. community center nearby to provide additional services for all homeless vets that aren’t residents in Veterans’ Village.
He says the center will provide medical, dental, and legal services, as well as home amenities, such as laundry facilities.
One of the problems Stout says he encountered when trying to assist veterans is that different agencies have varying definitions of veterans, which he calls misnomers. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, eligibility for most VA benefits is based upon honorable discharge from full-time active military service, not active duty for training.
Veterans Community Project, he says, welcomes “everyone who has ever taken an oath to defend our Constitution.”
“It doesn’t matter what war you served in or your discharge status,” Stout says of his center’s services.