ORTING, Wash. - A new tiny home village in Pierce County will soon be home to dozens of veterans experiencing homelessness. The Orting Veterans Village stretches across five acres of land at the Washington Soldiers Home in Orting.
At first sight, the community may just look like a row of tiny houses. For Floyd Daniels, he sees a new start.
"It’s just one step closer to independence," said Daniels. "This is going to be great."
Daniels is one of the first four people to move into the Orting Veterans Village. The Navy veteran is making himself comfortable after experiencing homelessness.
"It’s a nice, quiet area. It’s like living in a park and it is very safe," he said. "It’s a great feeling to know that we have that security and it really helps you sleep good at night."
A good night’s sleep is one of many comforts the village hopes to provide to those that served the country. Some of them have been in and out of housing, struggling to survive on the streets.
"At one point they signed on the dotted line to give their lives to their country. And now you find them sitting under a cardboard box on a street corner. That’s just not right," said Tod Gunther, the village’s program director.
Gunther, a Navy veteran, is familiar with the challenges. He experienced homelessness while still serving on Orting City Council. Now that his life has changed, he said he hopes to do the same for veterans in Pierce County.
"The first thing is restore their dignity and their honor, especially the vets. And then once you do that and they have a stable place to live and they have a bed to come home to at night and they don’t have to worry being woken up or kicked or beat while they’re sleeping," said Gunther.
The village will house 35 veterans in fully furnished cottages. The new residents must pass a background check and drug test before moving in. The village has a community center where people will share a large kitchen, recreation room and office space. Veterans will also be connected to resources including job opportunity and permanent housing.
"It’s inspiring. It’s taking one life at a time and improving the quality of it. And for me, if we were able to get every person off the streets, the community would be a lot better, healthier," said Marcus Taylor, the village’s case manager. "A community could never reach its height if underserved needs are not getting met."
Taylor, also a Navy veteran, experienced homelessness. Through the support of community programs and local veterans, Taylor will be obtaining is bachelor’s degree. When it comes to helping someone get back on their feet, Taylor said he knows what it takes.
"Compassion goes a long way. Love from one human being to another is a powerful thing and some people just need love, a little compassion—feel like they are somebody," said Taylor.
Quixote Communities is leading this project in housing homeless veterans. The group created its first village in Olympia, and a third site is under construction in Shelton. Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs is also one of many partners to make this village happen.
"Just plant a seed. We’re just planting a seed right now and hopefully it can get people back on their feet and healthy again and can be productive members in society," said Taylor.
The goal is to welcome in at least five people per week until all 35 homes are full. Directors said veterans can stay in the cottages as long as they need, as there is no time limit. They are accepting recommendations, doing outreach and working with area programs to find the right veterans to offer the services. Daniels said this support will help him become more self-sufficient.
"This is a great, great opportunity to survive here," said Daniels.
Orting Veterans Village is hosting a virtual grand opening on May 25 at 12 p.m. Gunther said he hopes these efforts will help eliminate stigma about people experiencing homelessness. They have pictures of some of the highly acclaimed individuals hanging on the wall of the community center’s common area as inspiration.
"They have helped change the country. For example, Irving Berlin in the early 1900s wrote the popular song ‘God Bless America’—a former homeless man. Charles Goodyear, he invented vulcanized rubber—a former homeless man. Halle Berry, a famous Oscar-winning actress—formerly homeless," said Gunther. "Homelessness is a condition, it’s not a character defect. And a lot of society believes they’ve made mistakes, they made poor decisions, they’re losers. When in fact, it’s happen to anyone."
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