In Kansas City, a group of combat veterans has gone tiny to make a big difference.
Over the past two years, Veterans Community Project (VCP) has constructed a community of 49 tiny homes that provides free transitional housing and support services for homeless veterans. The nonprofit was founded by Bryan Meyer, Mark Solomon, Chris Stout, Vincent Morales, Kevin Jamison and Brandonn Mixon, who met when transitioning from military to civilian life.
“We were all having trouble navigating [that transition],” said Mixon, who struggled with his mental health after being medically retired from the U.S. Army at 22 years old due to a traumatic brain injury.
Despite each working through their own challenges, the six men bonded through their collective energy and desire to take a fresh approach to helping other veterans.
Mixon (pictured below) said their idea for tiny homes was born of out intentionality, not novelty. He described the design of the houses as trauma-informed; the beds, for example, are up against walls and face the front door that is the only way in or out. And the overall community mimics a military barracks-style living situation.
In veteran homelessness and housing instability, VCP is aiming to tackle a pervasive issue, as a report last year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that over 37,000 veterans are homeless nationwide.
To find those in need, Mixon and the team at VCP have built partnerships with the City of Kansas City, the VA Medical Center and other local nonprofit organizations, as well as have conducted street outreach.
“What’s unique about us is that we’re one of the first nonprofits that helps any veteran,” said Mixon. “We don’t care if you served a day in the military or 30 years in the military – you’re still a veteran to us.”
Twice this past summer, dozens of U.S. Bank employees spent their workdays helping to put some of the finishing touches on the tiny home community. Through its Community Possible corporate social responsibility platform, the bank provides employees with 16 hours of paid time off per year to spend volunteering.
In addition to volunteer support, the bank also provided VCP with an $18,000 Community Possible grant to help fund the support services – from mental health counseling to financial education to free bus passes – that the organization provides for both its residents and any nearby veteran in need.
U.S. Bank, which is nationally recognized as a top corporate supporter of veterans and military families, has provided more than $150 million in tax-credit investments over the past decade that have gone toward building affordable housing developments that aim to house veterans in need – this includes St. Michael’s Veterans Center, which is located just several miles up the road from VCP in Kansas City.
“As one of the largest banks in the country, we have both a unique ability and an inherent responsibility to help solve issues such as veteran homelessness,” said Marcos Hernandez, community affairs manager for U.S. Bank in Kansas City and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
He added, “Veterans Community Project is exactly the type of partner we look for in our communities and we are excited to lend both volunteer and financial support.”
The creative approach taken by the relatively young nonprofit in the heart of the country is now drawing attention from coast to coast. In recent months, their efforts have been covered by national media such as CNN and the tiny home community has become a stop on presidential campaigns. Mixon was even featured on an episode of the Netflix hit Queer Eye after cofounder Bryan Meyer nominated him for a makeover on the show.
Mixon, who has an easygoing, humble personality, said that the attention has resulted in thousands of cities reaching out asking what it would take to bring a tiny home community to veterans in their city. Their first move to do so was recently starting to build a new community in Thornton, Colorado, through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
Looking ahead, Mixon added that they hope to continue to quickly, and thoughtfully, expand to more cities.
“We owe that to our brothers and sisters who have served,” he said.
Written by Pat Swanson of U.S. Bank.