Eric Gage, the executive director of the Veterans Community Project in Sioux Falls, hangs a flag on one of the five tiny homes that will soon house homeless veterans. The project held a ribbon cutting on May 9, 2023. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
SIOUX FALLS – Project managers and advocates threw open the doors of the first five tiny homes for veterans in Sioux Falls on Tuesday morning.
The homes are the first in a planned village of transitional housing for homeless veterans in southeast South Dakota.
The village is about a mile from downtown Sioux Falls, tucked between an apartment complex and a middle school practice field on ground where homeless veterans and others recently camped beneath a patch of thick trees. The encampment had been there for years, according to Eric Gage, executive director of the Veterans Community Project in Sioux Falls.
“It was convenient for services, and it was out of sight,” Gage told a crowd of assembled supporters, city officials and volunteers. “I don’t want our veterans out of sight anymore.”
Sioux Falls is the second city in the U.S. to embrace the tiny house model. The first was in Kansas City, the home base for the Veterans Community Project organization.
The goal is to offer a home and a case manager to homeless vets, in the hope of getting tenants the personalized help they need to fold themselves back into the fabric of the community at large and find permanent housing. The average stay in a tiny home in Kansas city is between 14 and 15 months, according to CEO Bryan Meyer, though there’s no official timeline.
The first Sioux Falls vets are scheduled to move in about two months from now, as crews continue to build out another 20 homes on the 2-acre plot.
Meyer said the ribbon-cutting ceremony marked a major milestone for both South Dakota and his organization, which has plans in the works for villages in Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
Sioux Falls, he said, has been a model partner for the group’s first attempt to expand the concept beyond its home city.
“It’s not very often that we as an organization get to do firsts anymore,” Meyer said. “This is the first ribbon cutting of a site outside of Kansas City. It wasn’t the first one we broke ground on. It wasn’t even the second. But the way the community came together to wrap their arms around it put it on a trajectory that I don’t think we were even prepared for sometimes.”
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
The homes come furnished with new furniture, appliances, housewares, bedding, personal items, all free of charge. Utilities are covered, as well.
The reality for veterans, who experience homelessness at higher rates than the general population, is that those living on the streets or couch surfing with friends have too much on their plate to worry about changing their lives long-term, Meyer said.
“It’s really hard to worry about your mental health, substance abuse, employment and all that when you’re worried about ‘Where am I going to sleep? What am I going to eat?’” Meyer said.
The organization will work with community partners to find tenants, then case managers will work with community service providers to connect those tenants to the resources they need. Which means the community has a lot of work ahead of it, Mayor Paul TenHaken said.
“We need to continue to wrap our arms around VCP and the work they’re doing in this community,” he said. “Honestly, building the homes is the easy part.”
It’s not always especially easy, though. The $1.7 million raised in the initial round of support for the Sioux Falls village is more than a project on the other side of the state has been able to pull together thus far.
The Veterans Helping Hands Project in Hot Springs secured $700,000 from the Housing Development Authority to build six duplexes for vets in that city, which is home to the Hot Springs VA Medical Center.
The idea there, according to President Dave Gates, is to couple the homes with job training. The vets will help build the homes once the group raises another half million dollars for construction.
“Right now, we’re still looking for support to get the rest of the project done,” Gates said.
In the meantime, he said, the group will start work on remodeling both an existing home and a restaurant once called the Dew Drop Inn to help prepare vets for the work. The restaurant’s owners will benefit from the work, Gates said, and the vets will have a head start in learning construction trades.
“It’s a two-year project that we’re going to be using to train veterans who are in the alcohol and drug rehab programs,” Gates said. “It’s that job training that will help to break the cycle.”
Gates hopes to firm up his fundraising and break ground by July 1.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.