Tiny Homes Make a Huge Difference for Pierce County

  • Author: William Wagner
  • Date: May 29, 2024

It may be surprising to find out how many veterans spend their lives on the verge of homelessness nationwide. Despite their service to the country, one out of every four homeless individuals wore a United States military uniform at some point in their lives and more than 1.5 million veterans are living in poverty. Subsisting on a fixed income as the cost-of-living skyrockets often creates a lot of uncertainty and the death of a caretaker or a serious health issue can put veterans over the edge, into financial ruin and maybe even homelessness. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has resources to serve only 1 out of every 10 homeless Veterans: “At one point they signed on the dotted line to give their lives to their country. And now you find them sitting under a cardboard box on a street corner. That’s just not right,” said Tod Gunther, a Navy veteran. Gunther is familiar with the challenges; he has experienced homelessness. Now that his life has changed, he said he hopes to do the same for veterans in Pierce County

In the small city of Orting, located in Pierce County, Washington a new tiny home village is now home to dozens of veterans experiencing homelessness. The village houses 35 veterans in fully furnished cottages. The new residents must pass a background check and drug test before moving in. The village has a community center where people will share a large kitchen, recreation room and office space. Veterans will also be connected to resources including job opportunity and permanent housing. The Orting Veterans Village stretches across five acres of land at the Washington Soldiers Home in Orting.

Over 10% of Pierce County’s 928,696 civilian population have served our country, one of the highest percentages in the State of Washington. Officials estimate the homeless population in Pierce County potentially to be as high as 2,661 of which 7% are homeless veterans. Robert Sheetz, Veterans Program Manager for Pierce County talked about how the tiny home village began, “a couple of years ago, a nonprofit approached the county and essentially asked if there was a need for additional housing for veterans, that nonprofit really was trying to develop housing with HUD VASH vouchers.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, known as HUD-VASH, is a program that provides affordable housing and supportive services to homeless veterans and their families. The program is a joint effort between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Sheetz explained how the project came to fruition, “Here in Pierce County, we’re lucky enough that we have a state soldier’s home and the land that came with its establishment to create essential programming for veterans. The State of Washington used this property to develop an adult family home for veterans. But as they built a newer facility, some of the older space became unused property and this created the ability to repurpose older buildings into supportive services for previously homeless veterans. The State of Washington partnered with Quixote Communities to build tiny homes next to a planned transitional housing project supported by the VA called Grant Per Diem. By establishing the Tiny Home Village next door, Pierce County, the Washington Department of Veteran Affairs and the Federal Veteran Affairs have provided an opportunity for Veterans that were homeless to have up to two years of Transitional Housing in Grant Per Diem. Here they are provided with case management, three meals a day, plus a place to live while they figure out what the next step is.”

That next step might be moving out into an apartment, moving back in the family, relocating to another state city, whatever might be, or in this case, it now can be relocating essentially across the parking lot into a tiny home that was right next door.

After the Tiny Homes were built, the biggest challenge that the Orting Veterans Village has is that they’re located is about 19 miles from Tacoma, Washington. Veterans were open to the idea to go into this transitional housing project, but struggled with the idea that there wasn’t reliable transportation for them. Although in the State of Washington there are a few vans that can take Veterans to medical appointments and VA Hospitals, this only provided a minimal amount of their transportation needs. How would residents get to the grocery store, go shopping, or meet other needs?

Pierce County Mobility Manager, Daeveene May recognized this issue and sat down with Robert to find a solution. “Initially when we started the conversation, we thought that what they were looking for was reliable every single day transportation to like VA properties, or places like that. After we surveyed the veterans that live at the Tiny Homes Village and asked them, what do you want, what would be most beneficial to you? Overwhelmingly the responses were that the biggest thing they were looking for was transportation places such as a grocery store, bank, big box stores, etc. and last and certainly not least, getting them up to the nearest connecting point for our larger regional transportation. Making the connection for them to the regional Pierce County Transit system. A last mile/ first mile connection that would provide them with mobility to meet their needs but also allow them to go see friends, family, whatever it might be. They wanted the option to do that.”

With Daeveene’s determination, funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s 5310 program, some local funding, and money from Veteran’s Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, Daeveen and Robert initiated the Veteran’s Orting Tiny Homes Transportation Pilot.  This pilot provides door to door service, connections to the regional transit service and is available to those living in the homes as well as the transitional housing transportation at no direct cost to the Veterans. A very important goal of the program was to not have an out of pocket cost for veterans. For a veteran to live in either the transitional housing property or the tiny home village they pay 30% of their income to reside in that property. “We felt strongly that this should also cover the cost of transportation” stated both Robert and Daeveene.

When asked to describe the Tiny Home Village, Frank, one of the first veterans to move in said, “It’s a nice, quiet area. It’s like living in a park and it is very safe,” he said, “It’s a great feeling to know that we have that security and it really helps you sleep good at night,” and with the transportation provided by the pilot, “It’s just one step closer to independence.”

The statistics on homelessness among veterans are sobering indeed. It’s heartening to hear about initiatives like the Orting Veterans Village providing much-needed support and housing for those who served our country.  It’s also important to remember that homelessness can affect anyone, regardless of their background or achievements. Homelessness is a condition, it’s not a character defect. Sadly, a lot of society believes the homeless have made mistakes, they made poor decisions, they’re losers. When in fact, it can happen to anyone. Charles Goodyear, the man whom invented vulcanized rubber, Harry Houdini, possibly the greatest magician of all time, personal finance guru, Suze Orman, and Oscar winning actress Halle Berry, all were formerly homeless. In a sad twist of irony, Irving Berlin in the early 1900s wrote the popular song ‘God Bless America’. Many do not know that Berlin was previously a homeless man.

Veteran’s Orting Tiny Homes Transportation Pilot was originally hoping to provide 100 rides a month but have quadrupled that and are now doing 400 rides a month.

You can find more information on efforts to fight against homeless veterans check out the following sites:




We’d love to hear from you!

Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (kashner@ctaa.org).

Skip to toolbar