Tom served as a Marine in the 1960s, one of the get-spit-on generation of veterans who came home from combat to a country that confused the war with the warrior. Later in life, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of colon cancer that had metastasized to his lungs. The best doctors for this type of cancer were in Kansas City, Missouri, so Tom packed his bags and made the trek to a new city all alone. His family was estranged, living on the East Coast and unaware of his illness, so he found a homeless shelter that let him stay while he went through chemotherapy.
It wasn’t ideal. Any place where there are many people living together in close quarters can’t be sterile. Think about refugee camps or shelters during hurricanes. There are just too many people with varying degrees of hygiene in the same place.
Still, he beat the cancer. Tom was a soldier, a Marine, and he refused to surrender to it.
Then, it came back. This time, living in a homeless shelter would be a problem. Tom had lost close to 50 pounds since he had been sick, and doctors said he had to be healthier before he could have the life-saving surgery he needed. That’s when the Veterans Community Project stepped in. Formed by a group of veterans, the nonprofit is in the process of building an entire village of 240-square-foot homes.
Tom recently moved into one of the first finished houses in Veteran’s Village. Within eight months, doctors predict Tom will be able to get the surgery he needs to keep on fighting.
Veterans Community Project
In 2015, Bryan Meyer, Chris Stout and Brandonn Mixon started Veterans Community Project to help their brothers in arms. All three had served in the military, so helping homeless veterans was a natural fit for their altruistic enterprise.
“What we saw were a lot of veterans slipping through cracks and/or not being served how we felt was appropriately by (other) organizations,” Bryan said. “We decided to start our own organization to address those issues.”
At first, their goal wasn’t to build homes for veterans. The initial plan was to create a nonprofit that said yes first and figured out the details later. Bryan focuses on what he calls common-sense solutions, a much-needed and oft-forgotten idea in today’s culture.
If veteran homelessness is the problem, then the common-sense solution is to build small, cost-efficient housing.
“When you look at housing a homeless person, you look at existing models for shelters and things like that. Tiny houses offer a lot of benefits,” Bryan said. “One, they’re cost effective. Two, they offer a sense of privacy and security, and most importantly, they’re a great classroom to … reteach people how to live independently again.”
Bryan, Chris and Brandonn look like three guys who could have their own construction show on HGTV, but there’s a lot more to them than hammers and drills. In fact, they didn’t even know how to build a home when they first started the project. They learned most of their lessons from the 21st century’s great professor: Youtube.
Once they started to spread the word about their project, construction and home repair companies jumped on board to help, Bryan said.
These aren’t the homes you see on TV shows that are built on trailers for young couples who want to travel the world or rid themselves of materialism. No, these are a little more stable — think an energy-efficient, one-bedroom, one-bathroom home, sized perfectly for one person to get back on his or her feet. They are built on concrete foundations and connected to city utilities.
Earlier this year, Veterans Community Project helped 13 veterans — including Tom — move into Veterans Village. By the time the project is done, there will be 50 homes for veterans on the same property. The village will also have a large community center for residents to get social services on site.
The statistics are staggering. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates there are 39,471 homeless veterans each night.
Josh Henges, the clinical director for the project, oversees the mental health of the residents.
Of those homeless veterans, Josh said 99 percent have experienced some kind of trauma, either in combat or in their personal lives. He’s been working with the homeless population for the past 15 years and developed an understanding of everything that leads up to unsheltered living.
“One of the biggest takeaways is that they have forgotten … how to be a veteran,” Josh said. “They’ve forgotten how to be a veteran because one, they’ve been out of it for so long or two, they’ve been homeless … for so long or three, especially with Vietnam, veterans were spit on and told they were worthless.”
What many don’t understand about the homeless population is the lifestyle of a transient person is much more than the lack of a roof and four walls. The dangers of living on the street leads to psychological problems that take time to reverse.
“They are always in survival mode,” Josh said. “Folks in survival mode behave very differently from those who are not. When you don’t have to worry where you’re going to sleep that night, when you don’t have to worry what meal you’re going to have — and the biggest thing is —when you don’t have to worry about your safety when you sleep, your brain does very, very different things. It’s at ease. It’s calm. It’s understanding. It can begin to see a bigger picture. You can build on successes. When you’re in survival mode, all you do is think about right now.”
There are certain things you forget after living on the streets — meal preparation, sense of ownership, even when to turn off the TV at a responsible hour. The Veterans Community Project works to get residents back on their feet in every way, not just by giving them housing.
While other groups have reached out to the Veterans Community Project founders to build similar villages for the elderly, those who have been released from prison, those who have aged out of foster care, etc., they will remain focused on helping veterans.
Without Trideum Foundation and other big sponsors, Veterans Community Project wouldn’t be able to help as many homeless veterans.
We ask one more thing: If you see a veteran, make sure you tell them you appreciate and respect what they did for you. No one, especially those who made it through the hell of war, should ever forget those veterans are worthy, loved and respected. Every vote cast, church service held or uncensored broadcast is a testimony to what they did to protect our values.
Don’t let them forget.
The Community Journal is dedicated to sharing the good news in our community. We believe when we focus on good, more good happens.
Do you know a good-news story that should be on the Community Journal? Send it to us by clicking here.
We are looking for video storytellers. Do you know how to use Facebook Live? Are you a storyteller or aspiring journalist? Would you like to be a part of our team? Contact us at [email protected]
We also want to invite you to join our new community, AUTHENTIK.city. We firmly believe people don’t hate each other as much as we’ve been led to believe, so we’ve created a community of people who want to be a part of the solution—a social platform based on real stories; a community grounded in respect and love for others. No bullies. No trolling. No ads. No judgment.
Click here for your invitation to join.