College students build houses for homeless veterans

Reed hopes to present the first home to a veteran on Christmas Day.

Along with his fraternity, Reed has been raising money to build tiny homes for the veterans.

Taylor Reed, a 21-year-old college student, has befriended his town’s homeless veterans.

On Christmas Day there will be one less homeless veteran in Huntsville, Ala., if a group of college students have anything to do with it.

Taylor Reed, a 21-year-old student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, has already befriended much of his town’s homeless population and now is working to put roofs over their heads with the help of his fraternity and the community.

“Something’s got to be done,” Reed told Campus Reform. “These veterans don’t need to be on the streets.”

For $5,000, Reed, alongside his community and fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, can build a tiny home-- a 300 square foot structure that will become a home for a veteran. And the more money Reed and his fraternity brothers raise, the more houses they can build.

Phi Kappa Psi’s mission: to create a tiny home community--completely facilitated by the veterans in a type of “homeowners association” with a central community center for church, bathrooms, and the kitchen. All veterans will be able to help share the chore of making meals and will be in charge with the upkeep of their home. Veterans will also help with the actual manual labor that goes into the building of their home as well as picking out the paint colors. Reed wants to make sure their tiny homes are just that--homes.

“They get really excited about being able to pick out simple things that people nowadays when they pick out a home they want a walk-in closet with four different rooms and all this kind of stuff,” he said. “But [the veterans] are just like ‘I want a wall. I want a bed.’”

Homeless veterans in Huntsville are assigned caseworkers, Reed told Campus Reform. These caseworkers help the veterans with anything from counselling for a mental illness to rehabilitation from a drug or alcohol addiction. The caseworkers are also in charge of selecting the order of the waitlist for the tiny homes.

“This is not meant to be permanent, but it’s the first step to get them out of homelessness,” Reed said. “Hopefully with this house, that could be a burden off of them. They can have a shelter so they’re not stinky, they’re not wet when it rains. They can actually clean up. They’ll have showers so they can clean up and actually get a job.”

And Reed, who is in his fourth year of school studying mechanical engineering, truly has befriended the homeless veterans he comes into contact with. From Bill, the man he said his father would bring to church with his family, to David, a Vietnam veteran who washes windows despite his cancer diagnosis, Reed told Campus Reform countless stories of the people who have motivated his project.

“[David is] another person whose story touched me,” Reed told Campus Reform. “I’m in college and I’m going to be potentially be stealing a job that he could get because I’m young and I could work for the company forever but this guy has served our country and fought for our freedom and he can’t even get a job.”

Between the monetary donations on their fundraising page, funds raised through car washes, and materials donated from local community members--such as the wood for the house floors--Reed says the group may just have a house built to give to a veteran on Christmas Day, which was their original “lofty” goal.

“We set that goal because we wanted to rush ourselves and push ourselves but now I really feel we can get the first home built by Christmas with the support we’ve been getting from the community and all over the nation.”

Reed said the project really hit home for him and the rest of his brothers one day earlier in the semester whenever they were out to eat at Sonic, and he saw one of his brothers sit down and share a meal with a homeless man. Before he knew it, the stranger had regaled the entire band of brothers with his story.

“It was like he was one of our brothers,” Reed said. “He was homeless, but he was a guy just like all of us.”

And Reed is no stranger to the tragedy of homelessness himself. In 2011 a tornado destroyed his family’s home and with it, their possessions. The necklace around Reed’s neck is the only object that he still has from before the storm.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn