When Michael Stacey returned from the Vietnam War in 1973, he was proudly wearing his uniform as he stepped off the plane. The reaction from the public was disheartening.
Strangers spit on him and called him names, he said. He went home, took off his uniform and never put it on again. But he remembered the feeling and vowed to treat other veterans with dignity and respect.
Today, that promise has manifested into a dream that he’s hoping is getting closer to reality: a village made up of microhomes to house homeless veterans.
Stacey formed a nonprofit, PureKraze Events for Veterans, and with the help of others, including other veterans, he’s hoping within a year he will have 18 permanent microhomes where homeless female veterans can live as long as they want.
On a recent weekday, Stacey stood on a grassy, undeveloped lot stretching about one acre in Vancouver’s West Minnehaha neighborhood. Two friends and fellow veterans stood with him. The three men imagined the land filled with 16-by-12-foot prefab houses, complete with kitchenettes, bathrooms and concrete foundations. There would be a community hall, too, for gatherings and meetings.
• To learn more about housing at Freedom’s Path, call the Portland VA system’s Community Resource and Referral Center at 503-808-1256 or 800-949-1004, ext. 51256.
• For more about PureKraze Events for Veterans, visit www.purekrazeveteransvillage.com
“By this time next year,” Stacey said. “Before winter sets in.”
Ron Fryer, 69, owns the land and plans to lease it at a very low cost for the development.
The motivation for the three is straightforward.
“I have a soft spot in my heart for veterans,” Fryer said.
The third man, Ron Powers, 62, also a veteran, joined Stacey from the start of the project.
“I love helping, and I want to be part of something bigger than myself,” Powers said.
All three of them repeated the need to thank veterans for their service and called it unacceptable that they are sleeping on the street.
The city of Vancouver recently rezoned Fryer’s property to allow for the development.
City Councilor Alishia Topper said the city is encouraging of “out-of-the box, creative ideas for affordable housing.” The city has a lack of affordable housing stock.
“The thing I like about their project is they are linking a certain population … with supportive services. The women will not just move in and be left; someone on site will connect them to benefits, maybe there will be medical and some case management. It’s a little bit more than a housing development.”
Stacey said he’s working with Partners in Careers, too, to offer employment-assistance for the residents. Partners in Careers also will help connect Stacey with veterans to ensure the neediest populations are served.
Stacey’s nonprofit, PureKraze, will host several fundraisers in the next couple of months for the project. There will be a Vet Bowl and a walkathon at the Vancouver Mall. The group is also looking at grants. They hope to raise about $600,000 primarily through community events. They want community buy-in and to have locals invested in the project.
The region has made considerable strides in housing its homeless veteran population recently. A 50-unit apartment complex called Freedom’s Path at Vancouver Apartments, on VA property, opened recently to house veterans.
Veterans can apply through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program for rental assistance.
Portland was recently recognized by the White House for its efforts for housing veterans. The city was praised for ending veteran homelessness, which doesn’t mean there aren’t homeless veterans still sleeping on the city’s streets. But rather, there are now pathways to house much of the homeless veteran population.
A point-in-time survey conducted by the Council for the Homeless to get a one-day homeless count, or snapshot, of how many homeless people are in the county, found 40 homeless veterans in 2016. Since it’s done in a single day, it’s typically an undercount.
When Stacey started out on this endeavor, the retired SEH America employee was told by a few people that his dream would likely never be a reality.
But now, he’s confident it will be.
“It was just a seed, it became a seedling and soon it will be a tree,” Powers said.
Stacey followed up with: “What better way to say thank you to our veterans?”