Photo Courtesy of Veterans Community Project, The Tiny Home village in Kansas City, Mo.
The problems U.S. veterans face are numerous and can be onerous. Readjusting to civilian life is challenging, especially when so many are dealing with health-related issues from their service. The Veteran’s Administration is dedicated to helping them find their way, but services often depend on where you live and proximity to care. And when it comes to cannabis use, the VA is strict about it still being federally illegal.
Just this week, Sean Worsley, an Arizona Iraq vet who uses cannabis for back and shoulder pain, is facing five years in prison after his probation for a cannabis arrest in 2016 was revoked. And the VA recently had to explain to Congress that there is no policy that keeps veterans from receiving home loans because they work in the cannabis industry after complaints from vets in individual states where it’s legal.
It’s well-known that cannabis can be a beneficial tool for veterans, who use it for PTSD and pain, among other issues. The way any organization treats cannabis use is essential to its success.
That’s why the Veterans Community Project (VCP) makes so much sense. The group is less focused on barriers to entry, and more on how to be an inclusive organization for all veterans. It’s why the group has likely seen support from cannabis companies, such as Boulder, Colo.-based Terrapin Care Station, which has partnered with the group in Kansas City and is looking to expand its involvement as the nonprofit gains momentum in Colorado.
Imagined and carried out by veterans themselves, Veterans Community Project was created to help give vets a better chance to deal with the problems they face as they re-enter society. VCP makes tiny homes available to veterans and gives them the tools they need as they readjust to civilian life. There are models for individuals and families: Individual houses are 240 square feet and family units 360 square feet Pets are allowed and welcomed, and individuals are identified through street outreach and prioritized by vulnerability, and each veterans gets a case manager to work closely with.
Veterans Community Project also includes a walk-in service which allows any vet to stop in to use computers or talk with someone about specific problems, with the general idea being to treat veterans—and the problems they face—as adults. “We’re trying to think beyond just offering shelter,” says Mark Solomon, one of the group’s leaders.
The goals are to break down barriers, move quickly and get things done, Solomon says, and to craft a program for each veteran’s individual situation. “Some might need a lot of help—others might need a little bit,” as he explains. Because the org doesn’t take federal money, any veteran, no matter his or her status upon leaving, can join the program or solicit help. “They made a vow to the country,” Solomon says, “and no matter what happened when they were in service, we need to accept that.”
Veterans Community Project began in Kansas City, Mo., in the summer of 2016 by a small group of veterans, and the project there has been largely a success story. VCP’s “can do” attitude comes from members’ own military training. When it all began, all the organization had was a piece of undeveloped property, and the first units were put in place in 2018.
Today, the KC campus currently offers about 50 units to house vets, including several devoted to families. Each residence is equipped with new basics, from bedding and furniture to cookware and kitchen utensils, and each resident is told to take those items with them when they leave. “It’s a different way of doing business,” says Solomon. “We think it’s an easier way to get people back to where they were.”
The property is now appraised at $1.5 million, much more than when they bought it, and property values around the installation have gone up as well. Think of it: A tiny village for homeless veterans that actually makes a positive real-estate upgrade. “We moved the homeless into our place and raised property values around us,” says Solomon.
The organization is now active in Longmont, Colo., where it plans groundbreaking ceremonies in late August to begin a tiny home village in the city’s southwest area near Nelson and Hover roads. While trying to figure out how to work with a city edict to end veteran homelessness, they crossed paths with Kevin Mulshine, a developer building a high-end subdivision of roughly 450 condos, townhouses and single-family homes.
Mulshine, head of HMS Development, visited the Kansas City project and, impressed with what he saw, donated 3 acres of land and added infrastructure and utilities. When finished, there will be 26 tiny homes, five of those family units, all in proximity to million-dollar residences. “As Mulshine told us, ‘an amenity should also be compassion,’” says Solomon.
When COVID-19 hit, VCP’s can-do attitude in Kansas City kicked in. Partnering with city and local officials and other non-profits, they ultimately mobilized and created a tent city where any homeless person could come for essentials, everything from washing their hands to getting a hot meal and medical care. “It’s that military thing,” says Solomon. “We organized not only the vet community, but we were instrumental in developing the city’s response in general. The city was very helpful.”
In Colorado, of course, adult-use cannabis has been legal for seven years. In Missouri, cannabis is approved for those with medical cards, and although a state-wide initiative to legalize adult-use failed to get on the ballot, Kansas City recently decriminalized personal use. Bryan Meyer is a VCP official working in Kansas City who emphasizes that those who use cannabis be treated like adults.
“We are cognizant of people,” Meyer says. The organization doesn’t allow any hard drugs on campus. “When it comes to alcohol or marijuana that’s legal, if it’s not a problem, we don’t worry about it. As long as you’re an adult, and it’s not interfering with you or your neighbors, it’s all right. If it’s not an issue, it’s not a concern.”
Find out more about the Veterans Community Project at https://www.veteranscommunityproject.org/.