A group of veterans in Kansas City is hoping that through building a service member-focused community of small houses and reintegration services, they can change the reality that, too often, fellow veterans end up living on the street. The vision of the Veterans Community Project, co-founded by Marines veteran Kevin Jamison, Army veteran Chris Stout, and Navy reservist Mark Solomon, is to create a round-the-clock support structure to assist veterans in transitioning out of homelessness.
When Jamison retired after 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he began working with homeless veterans, of which it is estimated there is nearly 40,000, but found that he was having to say "no" to veterans more frequently than he ever imagined he would have to, he told A Plus. He found that Stout was having similar frustrations - Jamison recalls Stout paying for a veteran's hotel room literally out of his pocket - and they decided there must be a better way.
"I was saying no to people who I would consider my brothers and sisters," Jamison said. "We started this because we saw veterans who were falling through the cracks and needed help."
They started meeting at a bar regularly to brainstorm and the idea of creating transitional housing for homeless vets was born. A local councilwoman pointed them in the direction of tiny houses, which are about 240 square feet, that would be more cost-efficient than their initial idea to refurbish a local school. On Nov. 11 - Veteran's Day - in 2015, they met the mayor of Kansas City, who helped them acquire land near an existing veteran's outreach center for $500 through the Land Bank of Kansas City.
Almost a year and a half later, ten homes - of the envisioned 52 - on the lot are in various stages of completion, many of which have been built with the help of homeless veterans.
"Those guys want to help," said Jamison. "They want to be a part of it and they love it when they can get involved. The more they're invested, the more successful we're going to be."
Jamison hopes that the first ten veterans will be able to move into the community in August. It is estimated that each house costs about $10,000 to build. The Veterans Community Project receives its funding from grants and public donations, but the goal is to create a self-sustaining model through creating a business where you can hire the vets who live in the tiny houses to build them at other locations.
Jamison said they intend to find veterans to live in the homes through talking with those who are currently living on the street. He said that anyone who has sworn the oath to protect the Constitution is eligible to live in their community, which is a broader definition of the term "veteran" than in many other programs.
But, the Veterans Village isn't just about shelter. Those who live in the community will also have access to psychological, dental and legal services. There are also plans to build a community center in the future. Basically anything a veteran needs, Jamison said, they will see how it can be obtained because, he said simply, "we care about vets."