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Plans take shape for a tiny home village in Mishawaka for homeless veterans
South Bend Tribune - 12/6/2021
Dec. 6—MISHAWAKA — Jim Metherd wanted to act after he witnessed the 2012 opening of the Robert L. Miller, Sr. Veteran's Center, with its goal to help house homeless veterans.
A decade later, his dream is closer to reality as he works to establish a tiny house complex to help homeless veterans lead healthier lives.
The project, called Mishawaka Troop Town, would include services and seven tiny homes on Jefferson Boulevard, across the street from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 360 on the city's east side.
Metherd — joined by Dan Gann, Warren Seegers and others — already has raised $170,000 out of an expected total cost of $500,000. Plans are to continue garnering support so the project can break ground by late spring.
Metherd served in the U.S. Army and is a Desert Storm veteran, and Seegers and Gann are also veterans. Metherd said he retired in September 2020 to devote his time to the Troop Town project.
"We are viewing this as transitional housing," Metherd said. "We're going to help you with anything from spiritual to employment to financial services to mentoring, to allow you the opportunity to become gainful in our community again."
Each home would cost about $30,000 to build. In addition, organizers envision a welcome center and a community building for the residents. Metherd said other similar transitional housing projects have typically seen veterans stay for 12 to 20 months.
Metherd and Seegers stress that residents in the Mishawaka complex would work to be good neighbors and would be required to perform chores. By-laws are expected to be drawn up soon, spelling out requirements for residents and background checks.
When the original plans for the development were discussed with city officials, Metherd said, one concept called for barracks-style structures, while another was for a village of tiny houses. The city recommended the tiny house plan, Seegers said, to better fit with the residential area.
Earlier this year, organizers won approval for rezoning of land next door to the VFW Post 360 for Troop Town. At the time, the Common Council offered its support for the project.
Metherd said, however, the group later pivoted when land owned by Post 360 across the street proved to be cheaper. The group plans to seek rezoning for the new property later this month, before the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Common Council member Mike Compton said the project in his district seems to be something he will support but noted that there are some neighborhood concerns.
Last week, Troop Town officials met with neighbors at the VFW post for a question-and-answer session about the proposal. Residents asked about the size of the development, the vetting of veterans who would be there and oversight of the village.
"When the project moved and became more of a neighborhood setting, it takes a bit more work to appease neighbors," Compton said. "This (Troop Town project) will be needed, and we will be proud to see it here."
Metherd hopes that when the group breaks ground, word will spread about the project's goals and that local businesses and groups will offer to help with goods and services.
One house already has a sponsor from a local nonprofit, Seegers said, and two firms have agreed to supply materials for the project.
"The biggest hurdle we have right now is the awareness," Metherd said. "Everybody we speak to buys off on the mission wholeheartedly."
For more information on Mishawaka Troop Town, go to its website: https://www.mishawakatrooptown.org/
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Greg Swiercz at email@example.com.
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