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Fort Stewart soldiers build tiny homes for homeless military veterans
A Home Builders Institute student talks to retired Gen. George Casey, former Army chief of staff and HBI board of trustees member, during an event Thursday evening on Fort Stewart to showcase a prototype for future independent tiny-home shelters for Savannahs homeless veterans. - photo by Cailtin Kenney

Homeless veterans in Savannah will soon live in independent shelters built by Fort Stewart soldiers as part of a partnership between the Army and nonprofit organizations.

The Home Builders Institute, a national nonprofit, has a facility on Fort Stewart it is using to train soldiers who are separating from the Army with skills that will help them get a job in the construction industry.

“So when they leave the military, they leave with an industry-recognized certificate, and they can begin working in the construction industry as soon as they walk out the door,” said retired Gen. George Casey, former Army chief of staff and an HBI board of trustees member.

“And that’s what this program is all about,” he added. “And it’s a great partnership between the Army, between the Home Builders Institute and between the Bob Woodruff Foundation who’s provided the funding for all of this.”

The Fort Stewart program has a placement rate of 100 percent, according to John Courson, the president and CEO of HBI.

The Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless, which will receive the shelters, came up with the idea for building tiny homes based on other locations in the United States, according to executive director Cindy Murphy Kelley.

Kelley said Savannah needs housing for the homeless.

“It’s really important because the area around Savannah is short 8,000 units of affordable housing, and no serious effort has been made in many years to house the homeless,” she said. “And so we are able to show, for very low cost, we can build affordable, attractive, small homes to house people permanently.”

Savannah has nearly 300 homeless veterans, according to an HBI press release.

Each of the 12 “tiny houses” proposed to be built will be 128 square feet and will include two large windows, a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower; a mini kitchen that includes a refrigerator, microwave and sink; and a single bed, as well as shelving and storage, according to Kelley.

The cost for materials will be no more than $7,000 and the HBI students will be providing the labor.

Soldiers leaving the Army, such as Staff Sgt. Dennis Patterson with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, are benefiting from the HBI job training on Fort Stewart.

Patterson, who has been in the Army for 22 years, said that after seeing communities come out to support him, he wanted to find a way to give back.

“And with this program, allows me, personally, to give back to my community,” Patterson said. “I am so thankful I found out about this program. It’s just opened my eyes to so much. I am just so proud to be a part of this.”

He and other students are currently building the prototype of the structure that the homeless veterans will be able to live in for the rest of their lives, if necessary.

The HBI program is providing soldiers with the skills needed to start a new career outside of the Army.

“Just went through the motions, went to my appointments, and cried about how I ain’t employed yet,” Patterson said about what he would have done without the program before his retirement. “But now, I even got more skills to even put on my résumé.”

Disabled Navy veteran Kenneth Fox, who is currently homeless in Savannah, said that giving the homeless these homes will provide them safety and security. They would typically sleep in a shelter or a tent or under a tarp.

“Unfortunately, we have too many homeless people in the Savannah area,” Fox said. “We have homeless families and families that are at risk of being homeless. That there is nothing currently … addressing their situation because everything is just too overcrowded.”

“And this program,” he added, “is the next step towards addressing the overcrowding and addressing veterans’ needs individually.”

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