On a single night in January 2020, 37,252 veterans were homeless in the United States (or 8% of the total homeless population). A new tiny home village in Orting, Washington is trying to change that.
The village opened in May 2021 at the Washington Soldiers Home, equipped with 35 tiny homes ready for occupants. Residents must pass a background check and a drug test in order to move in. Once approved, they are enrolled in a year-long program and they can stay as long as they feel is needed once they have completed the program.
Like the general homeless population, veterans often find themselves homeless due to mental illness, drug addiction, or a combination of the two. According to authors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “the most consistent risk factors for homelessness identified by all studies were substance abuse and mental health problems,” with substance abuse being “the risk factor with the greatest magnitude of effect.” And a 2014 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 70% of homeless veterans suffer from a substance use disorder.
Substance abuse is part of what kept U.S. Army veteran Jimmy “Happy” Gilmore homeless for years. Thanks to the Orting Veterans Village, he is now eight months sober, re-connecting with family members, and slowly but surely piecing a successful life together.
The Orting project isn’t alone. A group called Veterans Community Project opened up a similar community in Kansas City in 2018 and have since expanded to four additional locations across the United States.
Tiny home communities such as these are doing more than simply providing a safe place to sleep. They are providing the homeless and disaffiliated with a community. Since disconnection from social supports is one of the most common traits among the homeless, this inherent communal design is vital.
Writes Michael Shellenberger in San Fransicko:
According to many homelessness researchers, the defining characteristics of chronic homelessness are addiction and “disaffiliation,” or estrangement, from friends and family. “What causes homelessness among these skid row dwellers?” asked a leading researcher in the early 1990s. “Addiction and the lack of a support system.” Said Tracey Helton Mitchell, who wrote a memoir about her heroin addiction in the Tenderloin, “When I left my hometown, I cut myself off from my support system, both emotionally and financially.”Michael Shellenberger, San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, pp. 13-14
Addiction disaffiliates. “When I was an addict,” said Vicki Westbrook, “I had lost touch with all of my spirituality. To me, spirituality is the connectedness that we all are with each other, with nature, with everything, right? I had lost that. When I tell you that addiction is very isolating, it’s so much more than the fact that people want to use by themselves and go in some cubbyhole, right? They’re disconnected from everything, right? Themselves, other people, the world, the environment. Even if they’re around people, there is isolation and disconnection.”Michael Shellenberger, San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, p. 61
The best solutions combating homelessness don’t stop at providing housing. It’s not merely about handing someone a key to a hotel room, an apartment, a tiny home, or a house. People can languish inside the safety of four walls just as they can languish sleeping on a sidewalk. It’s about wrapping the disaffiliated in the support they have for so long gone without. It’s about reconnecting human beings with one another.