New East Texas nonprofit organization aims to help homeless veterans

WATCH: New East Texas nonprofit organization aims to help homeless veterans
Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 1:06 PM CDT
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UPSHUR COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - Homeless veterans is a difficult issue to resolve. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates nationwide there were about 580 thousand vets without stable housing as of January 2020, and they say the number most likely rose during the Pandemic.

But there is a new non-profit created by veterans based in Upshur County that has plans to get homeless veterans re-integrated into society.

It doesn’t look like much, a tract of undeveloped land about five miles southwest of Gilmer on Highway 155, but veterans Ken Hanson, Jay Wichlacz, and Steven Rhame see a community of tiny homes here.

“Twenty to twenty-five units, starting off to see what our land looks like; the way of the layout. We’re going to have a community center in the middle of the property,” Wichlacz said.

The three met fairly recently. Steven says he met Jay in a parking lot at 4 am and they started talking.

“I told him my dream of building a community of tiny homes for homeless veterans and he said me too. So we started working together and making the dream come true,” Rhame said.

Ken got to know Jay at an event Jay had organized to help out vets. It was:

“A veteran’s garage sale. And I met Jay and he told me about his vision, so I told him I wanted to help,” Hanson said.

They started the project by establishing a non-profit called Veterans Are Stronger Together or VAST and made a website. They say the 8-acre site will soon be owned by VAST, and the program is in its infancy.

“We’re hoping that we put the right people in place to make sure that it’s successful. Because when we build this thing we want to build it in such a way that it lasts longer than any of us,” Rhame said.

So far they have received some monetary donations and even a tiny home, but first the lot needs infrastructure: Water, sewage, electricity, roads.

The plan is to make it more than a temporary place to live.

“Also we’ll have a work rehabilitation program where they can be connected to the Texas Workforce Solution program so they can get a job. We’re trying to get them 100 percent turned around, back on their feet and ready to go,” Wichlacz said.

“It’s hard to explain. I got my two brothers here and I never met them before. They’re amazing guys and we just had this instant bond and we came together and I said hey guys, they had the same idea, let’s just do it. Let’s do it,” Wichlacz said.

They are hoping East Texas generosity will help them build it, so the homeless vets can come home.

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