BEND, Oregon — Washington Examiner visited Veterans Village, where 15 tiny homes have been built to help homeless veterans get their lives back. The organizers made a point to lead with a sense of community.
We spoke with one resident, John Steel, who said he has been homeless and isolated for 12 years. “Even before I became homeless, I was a recluse.” Now, Steel is cracking jokes with reporters and is more than confident to speak on camera. He attributes this to his seven months in the Veterans Village. “My interactions with people was just zilch. So, this is forcing me to build my social skills.”
The Veterans Village coordinator, David Nieradka, who is a retired Army veteran himself, said they have a community room with an industrial kitchen, refrigerator, stoves, and dishwasher, along with showers and washing machines. It is also the only place residents can access TV and the internet. They do not allow televisions or WiFi in the cabins, specifically to encourage the residents to come into the community room and socialize.
“We want them socializing, kind of reintegrating with others because several of our guys have isolated for years,” said Nieradka. “That socializing and integration, with all of our vets here, promotes that sense of community, camaraderie that we once had in the military. It’s working out really good for us.”
Cheri Helt helped push the construction of this neighborhood of 15 homes through legislation. This whole project started before COVID while Helt was in the state legislature. She passed bills to relax building codes to make sure the project could happen.
Her department worked with the city council to allocate funding for the services and for the county. The county ended up donating the land to the Veterans Village.
“This project was really all about working together as a community and putting our energy into the solutions of fixing homelessness,” Helt said.
When COVID hit, the project almost came to a halt. “When we were building these homes, the problem we ran up against was a labor shortage. We didn’t have skilled carpenters that we could hire to build them,” Helt said. “We reached into the community and got all kinds of volunteers to come help. Everyone learned how to use power tools, and paint, and side, and it was a really amazing project.”
Helt was inspired by all the young people who came out to volunteer through school programs and organizations. She even got the whole family involved, as her father and husband learned how to put siding up on these houses. All the inspirational artwork on the walls and all the furniture were donated by Oregon businesses and people in the community.
“We did it as a community. No one could have done it on their own,” said Helt.
Steel sat in the kitchen of the community room and spoke to us about how he was chosen to be accepted into this program. “The services they provide are great. Now, in my case, because of my age and being retired, my criteria is totally different. I’m here for getting all my medical problems taken care of, which has been a plus so far.”
Steel revealed he needs to get a couple of toes amputated, and his hands were stuck in a curled position. He is able to get the proper medical care with the help of the Veterans Village. He used to make knives and can now get back into something he loves that could even help him make money. Steel told us saving money is a plus while in the program, and he dreams of taking a road trip on his motorcycle once he completes his time at Veterans Village.
“Right now, we have 12 residents on-site,” Nieradka said. “We’ve had a total of seven that have been residents and have moved on to their own housing or have decided that maybe this isn’t a good fit for them at this point in their lives. There is no bad blood with people leaving. Five of the seven have been success stories with employment, housing, really got them back on their feet again.”
For more information, visit the Veterans Village website here.