Two Soldiers Step Up To Help Fellow Veterans In A Big Way
Kristin Danley 11/17/2016
Imagine walking down a familiar street and you look up to see a house that wasn't there just a week before. That was the reality for the people of Kansas City, Missouri. They were confused at first when they started noticing tiny homes appearing. They didn't think too much of the quaint houses, but soon they started multiplying. Before they knew it, a small villiage was beginning to form! Fortunately, this spread of tiny homes is for a great cause.
Two young veterans saw a serious problem in their city and among fellow veterans. Sadly, approximately 11 percent of the adult homeless population just so happens to be veterans. The men knew that local shelters weren't the answer--and they also knew panhandling on the curb wasn't a solution. But they didn't know what to do.
These two veterans understood other soldiers' plight upon returning home. Chris Stout served seven years with the Armed Forces, medically retiring in 2007 after being injured in Afghanistan. Fellow soldier Brandon Mixon also served overseas as crew chief in the U.S. Army with the 82nd Airborne. Brandon had wanted to make a career out of the service, but also had to medically retire. Brandon said he was shocked at the difficulty in returning home to the very country he fought and protected.
"I loved serving. As soon as I got home though, things started going downhill for me. They got really bad."
Many veterans end up being homeless for numerous reasons. Usually, it's because things change back home--and not for the better--while they're serving overseas, fighting for our freedom and safety. They can't find jobs or they have trouble assimilating themselves into a world that's vastly different than the life they've lived in the desert or at a base. Most avoid homeless shelters for good reason, Chris said.
"If you look at a shelter, the best case scenario is you have a veteran in a room with five to six other guys. But if a veteran is struggling with PTSD or wants to isolate himself from others, that's not a succesful situation. They've been trained to survive on their own and a shelter doesn't allow them to do that."
Since Brandon trained in heating and cooling systems after he medically retired, he started thinking about a solution to the homeless veterans situation. He and Chris decided that the incredibly popular tiny house concept just might work. Brandon worked with Mitsubishi brand systems in his line of work and because of their virtually silent operational mode, no loud noises of a window air unit kicking on would startle a veteran. Each home would measure 20 feet in length and have 240 square feet. Their idea just might work, Chris believed.
"Every house is fully furnished. The idea is that they don't have to need anything. We want them to learn to cook, to care for themselves. We wanted them to have their own showers."
When the two veterans formed the non-profit Veterans Community Project, their customers and other businessmen offered to chip in and help however they could. They offered supplies, labor and equipment. The idea was to form a Veterans Village complete with a laundry area, counseling services, gym for working out and access to medical and dental care, Chris said.
All services, housing, food and utilities are provided at no cost to a veteran resident for a period of time, but eventually, the veteran will assume financial responsibility for living at Veteran's Village to help him or her get back on their feet. The goal is for the veterans to transition to their own permanent housing one day, Chris said.
"By 2020, we want more than 50 houses and a community center ... We want to give them everything they need to succeed."
The amount of help the veterans also have received from the community to kickstart this project has been incredible. As more people learned about the Veterans Community Project, they got on board to help. They cleared a four-acre vacant lot near 89th and Troost in Kansas City and began constructing the tiny homes together. The two veterans' project was taking shape quickly, Brandon said.
"With everyone offering to chip in and help however they could, that's when it hit me. This is real. This is great. It gives me chills talking about it."
Similar living communities have cropped up in other states. Quixote Village in the state of Washington has 30 tiny homes measuring 144 square feet that opened in December 2013. There, the veterans have access to a vegetable garden and a community building with showers, laundry facilities and a kitchen. Efforts are underway in Florida and Alabama to build similar communities.
Here is some insight into just how important it is to help homeless veterans.
Wintertime can be incredibly tough on the homeless--sometimes even deadly in states that endure frigid temperatures and heavy snow like blizzards. With the help of business partners and the community, Chris and Brandon hope to have 50 homes built by the winter of 2017 in the Kansas City Veterans Village.