Combat Vets Aim to End Homelessness with Tiny Homes

Chris Stout, Army veteran and Founder of the Veterans Community Project, named one of CNN's Top Ten Heroes for 2018.

When former Army Cpl. Chris Stout saw his fellow veterans struggling with homelessness, he set out to solve the problem by going small -- really small. Tiny, even.

On Veterans Day, 2015, Stout and three other combat vets started the Veterans Community Project (VCP), a non-profit that builds communities of tiny homes, providing a host of services for veterans.

During a 2005 combat tour in Afghanistan Stout was wounded and transitioned back to Kansas City, Missouri. Like many wounded warriors, he struggled with physical and mental injuries. He knew that he felt better when in the company of other veterans and, for a short time, worked as a veteran counselor connecting vets to services they needed. But it wasn't enough.

"I often would use my own money to put up vets in a hotel room," Stout said. "I felt like there must be better way to get vets the services they needed, as well as housing."

With its focus first on the great Kansas City, Missouri area, VCP wants to use the region as the blueprint for achieving similar successes in cities across the United States. Long term, they aspire to eliminate veteran homelessness nationwide.

Volunteers help with the finishing touches on tiny homes in the Veterans Community Project village.

"We are the place that says 'yes' first and figures everything else out later," Stout said. "We serve anybody who's ever raised their hand to defend our Constitution."

Homelessness is one of the major contributors to the high suicide rate of veterans, he said. According to the latest 2016 Department of Veterans Affairs study, that rate is 22 per day among younger veterans aged 18 to 34.

In the VCP program, veterans get more than just a home; they get a community of like-minded veterans supporting each other.

"It's very much like the barracks lifestyle, except that each veteran has their own home," Stout said. "They're taking care of each other. We also have a community center for them to gather and share camaraderie."

The founders of VCP say on their website they are a team of "connectors, feelers, and doers on a mission to help our kin, our kind. We move with swift, bold action, and will always serve with compassion."

Stout and his partners use their military logistics prowess to ensure that their housing communities are located along convenient bus lines and provide every veteran a free bus pass to allow easy transportation.

"We like to have them say, 'What do you provide?' That way we can ask them, 'What do you need?' And then we can start being the connectors," Stout said. "At least 60 percent of the people that we serve, we're serving them because of a poor transition from the military."

And it's thanks, in part, to his work with that community that he's accumulated a wealth of good advice on how to survive the transition from the military into the civilian world.

Chris Stout's Top 5 Transition Tips

1. Connect with other veterans in your community. They will have learned lessons and have guidance more valuable than a brochure.

2. Ask for assistance before it's too late. When Plan A doesn't pan out, be prepared to execute a Plan B and ask for help pulling yourself out of the hole.

3. You're not alone. You're not the first to struggle with the VA, and you're not the first to struggle with home life. Know that there are people who understand and can help sort it out. Often, when veterans transition, they view it as if they are the only ones traveling this road or the first blazing the trail. That's not the case

4. If you're a veteran, act like one. That means accepting responsibility, be on time, hold yourself accountable, have integrity and do not act entitled.

5. Work as hard as you did while you were in the service each and every day. It doesn't matter what you decide to do when you get out; if you keep the drive, you will be OK.

Master Your Military Transition

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-- Sean Mclain Brown can be reached at sean.brown@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @seanmclainbrown.

 

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