Nonprofit To Build Tiny Homes For St. Louis Homeless Veterans
A Kansas City-based nonprofit known for aiding veterans experiencing homelessness is expanding its work to St. Louis. The Veterans Community Project is building 50 tiny houses and a veterans outreach center in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood in north St. Louis.
“We are building a literal community on our campus, but it’s also about enhancing the community around us and being part of it,” said Jason Kander, president of the Veterans Community Project.
A former Missouri secretary of state and Army veteran, Kander said the nonprofit’s main goal is to end homelessness in the country by providing wraparound services and addressing veterans' needs. He said the nonprofit has a 93% success rate of transitioning veterans into permanent housing.
“Which means the people that come to live with us, so far 93% of them go back to being permanently housed, being productive and really important and valuable members of our communities,” he said.
Kander said the nonprofit hopes to begin housing veterans on the St. Louis campus by late next summer. A groundbreaking will be held today.
Each tiny home includes free new furniture, appliances and bedding. Utilities are covered. The outreach center will operate as a walk-in clinic connecting veterans with a wide range of services and resources, including emergency rent and utility assistance, case management and military documentation and benefits navigation.
Last year, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved legislation allowing the sale of a city-owned vacant lot to the nonprofit.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones' spokesman Nick Dunne said the city chose to partner with the Veterans Community Project because it’s providing transitional housing and resources for veterans. He said veterans experiencing homelessness have specific needs that are complex.
“For veterans specifically, especially those who served overseas that they have a special area of need, whether that’s addressing mental health issues or addressing the other needs that may have come as a result in their time of service,” Dunne said, “and so by partnering with VCP we are able to adequately address those needs.”
One of those needs is mental health services. It’s something Kander, who served in Afghanistan, knows firsthand. He’s been open about his mental health journey and even received help through the VCP, which connected him to services.
Kander said he wants to put a big dent in the suicide epidemic among veterans.
“When you look at the statistics, about 22 veterans take their lives every day,” Kander said. “But it’s within that that most people don’t realize that out of that 22, on average 18 of them are not connected to any sort of veteran services at all. By lowering the barrier and by making it much easier to access our services we want to make a real difference in those numbers, and that’s a big part of the walk-in operation.”
The nonprofit will connect with veterans through referrals from a variety of service providers and the VA, as well as sending out teams to do street outreach work to make sure veterans in the region are aware they can get help.
According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 453 veterans were experiencing homelessness in Missouri as of January 2020. Kander said that number is likely low.
“When you do look at the numbers generally you can increase the actual reported number by around 20 or 30%," he said. "When you consider, those numbers miss a lot of people."
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