Students in a vocational education program have built a small dwelling that soon will house a homeless veteran.
As with many projects, the pandemic threw a big wrench into plans for the tiny house built by students in the Arnette House Inc.’s vocational learning program.
Initial plans called for the small dwelling to be raffled off during a public event. Then the plan changed to sell the tiny home to recoup some of the agency’s fundraising losses due to COVID-19. Now, to give back to the community, it will provide housing for a homeless veteran.
Over the past 12 months, the endeavor merged into a partnership between Arnette House Inc., Marion County Veterans Services, Marion County Veterans Helping Veterans USA, the Marion County Veterans Council and the VFW Veterans Village.
Arnette House Inc. provides programs for youth ages 6 to 17 and their families in the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Marion, Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando counties. The organization was founded in 1979 by Vernon and Sara Arnette after their son Gary died of a drug overdose. It has expanded to include an emergency shelter, educational center, transitional living program and foster care group homes. The vocational program is funded by The Sexauer Foundation, which provides grants for charitable, educational and health-related or religious purposes, with a focus on children.
Cindy Moore, Arnette House, Inc.’s community outreach and development coordinator, said the vocational program, which began a few years ago, teaches basic car maintenance and carpentry skills.
“They started out with bird houses, dog houses, Adirondack chairs and pool benches, then built two 8-foot by 10-foot sheds,” she said of the carpentry students. “They built a mini-camper that was raffled off last year and this past year the instructors decided to go big and build a tiny house. Most of the kids were of high school age and attended school at the Arnette House Learning Center. There were around 50 to 60 boys and girls involved. They learned how to use power tools and hand tools, how to measure three times and cut once, and about electrical, painting and plumbing.”
Moore said women from the Chatham Quilters group made a quilt for the home and curtains. They told her about a place where several tiny houses are being used to house homeless veterans.
“The next morning, I spoke with our management team and we all agreed we should donate the tiny house to a veteran in need as a way to give back to the community that has supported us for the past 40 years,” she said.
Craig Ham, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is president of the Marion County Veterans Council, which has more than 50 member organizations that represent over 42,000 veterans in the county.
“We offered to take ownership of the tiny house through the council and find a place to set it up,” he said. “The VFW Veterans Village has spaces for recreational vehicles, and the tiny house is on wheels. They will provide hookups for water and electric. And, if that first resident leaves, then we can provide housing to another veteran. It just makes good sense.”
Ham said Jeffrey Askew, director of Marion County Veterans Services, and Hank Whittier, executive director of Veterans Helping Veterans, will select the veteran who will reside in the tiny house.
“I am more than happy to know that the students at Arnette House are learning marketable skills and they have a heart for veterans,” Askew said. “I thank God for those who care for veterans and their families who answered to call to protect our great nation.”
The VFW Veterans Village, located in Fort McCoy, opened in 1991 and spans 42-acres. It is home to veterans, their spouses and widows or widowers. The venue is owned and operated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Florida and is not subsidized by federal, state or local agencies. The director is retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel Alcides “Al” Lugo Jr.
Lugo said the village recently became eligible for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, or HUD-VASH. The program combines HUD housing vouchers with VA services to help homeless veterans and their families find and sustain permanent housing.
“With the vouchers, a veteran could rent here,” he said. “We’re like a cruise ship on land. We provide everything from toilet paper to meals to housekeeping and cable TV.”
He said they are excited about the tiny house and how we it can help a veteran.
“A lot of people have supported our mission, and not only veteran groups,” he added. “We are grateful to Arnette House and are glad the students are learning valuable skills.”
The keys to the tiny house will be presented to a veteran during an event on July 1st at the Marion County Veterans Memorial Park in Ocala. In the meantime, there are still ways the community can get involved in the project.
“We are going to be taking the tiny house around the community for everyone to take a tour before the July 1st hand-off and we are asking for donations for the vocational program and other programs at Arnette House,” Moore said. “We also are in need of sponsors for the tiny house, as we hope to have it stocked and decorated for its first occupant. Donations can be made through our website, www.arnettehouse.org.”