The Veterans Community Project started the movement building tiny homes to get homeless veterans off the streets.
“Our veterans come in hemorrhaging. We triage and get them right into the center. They don’t have time for five hundred pounds of paperwork.”
The Veterans Community Project (VCP) founders are urban pioneers– they founded the very first tiny homes to house homeless veterans and Kansas City is their first flagship center. “The founders saw the need and mortgaged their homes to build the initial center.” They were right about the need: “Day one they had 100 veterans in line for help,” says Kristin Griffin who works as the Community Engagement Manager.
There are 49 homes on site, each painted in a color that celebrates one of the military branches.
“We try to keep them as neat as a military base.” Four of the homes are for families. “It’s sad to think there are entire veteran families on the streets. We’ve had two parents and five children stay in a home before.”
There’s a community center that hosts ping pong tournaments, Chiefs games, and they’ve even had the KC Symphony visit. One of the veterans’ favorite events is their weekly coffee social. It’s an especial favorite of the community’s oldest resident, Rudy.
The VCP cares for veterans, whatever their age, whatever their struggles– The center’s eldest resident, Rudy, (real name withheld) is 91 year old. “He is such a flirt. He loves to come down in his fluffy camo bathrobe for coffee,” and be charming to everyone.
And the center is working hard to grow a future for its youngest resident.
Straddling the parking lot on the mini-campus is an oversized freight container. It’s somewhat industrial, but its imposing appearance is deceptive– it’s a hydroponics garden.
This steel Eden is the garden-lab of 25 year old Elsie (her real name is withheld for her privacy.) She’s currently pursuing a degree at the local University of Missouri Kansas City. UMKC drafted a grant on her behalf to convert the unit into a modular mushroom garden. Elsie will supply restaurants with locally sourced mushrooms for their menus.
The VCP also works to care for everyone in between: there’s a community kitchen where life skills like healthy cooking are taught, and there’s a dog wash where veterinarians volunteer their time vaccinating pets and clipping nails.
The center also has an on-site dental office. “Most of the guys that come in here don’t have any teeth. Think about it; if you’re on the street that’s not something you’re taking care of.” There’s a dentist that volunteers– if someone donates the funds for dentures, then he does the work for free.
They had one veteran that received a set of dentures, and “he went around smiling like a crazy person. The dentures gave him confidence to meet someone and fall in love.” He got married last Christmas.
“It’s ten thousand dollars end to end to help a veteran… We have no restrictions on length of stay, but most residents stay a year.” VCP has a 91 percent success rate in helping homeless veterans transition.
Each home is crafted individually for the incoming veteran, “we’ve gotten granular enough that if we find out the veteran likes fishing or gardening we decorate their homes to match that. Each home has super thick walls to make them feel secure and is outfitted with hurricane straps so that they can withstand any weather.” All beds are decorated with a homemade quilt and face the door because military-trained personnel are conditioned to always know their exit. Sleeping that way gives them a sense of security.
“Each home also has short doors.” Doors that have four inches of daylight at the bottom. The doors reassure veterans that no one is lurking outside.
Krisin says that, “My brother got the first ever tour of the VCP homes. Except for our parents’ funerals, the only time I’ve ever seen him cry is when he saw those doors. He said, ‘I remember what that was like. That feeling when I first came back that someone was waiting out there.’”
“We only use brand new things in the homes. It’s all about the dignity of the veterans. They’ve been knocked down. It’s our job to get them back up.”