SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Eric Gage wants to always highlight the word “community” in the new Veterans Community Project.
Gage, a Brandon graduate and South Dakota native, has taken over duties as the executive director for the Sioux Falls VCP village. He told KELOLAND News he wants the Sioux Falls community to continue to stay engaged with the VCP project.
“Over the course of the next year or two, we’ll be building this village, the community center and all the things that go with it. We rely on the community to do these things, not just to help fund them, but to help do this work,” Gage said. “Once we’re up and operational, we’ll still need to bring the community into our village to help us be successful.”
That building will start with a groundbreaking on Thursday. VCP is planning to build 25 tiny homes along with a VCP Center where support services will be located. The VCP tiny home village will be located not far from Axtell Park School in northwestern Sioux Falls at 376 N. Willow Avenue.
There will be single units that are 240 square feet and family units that are 320 square feet. Gage, who visited the first VCP Village in Kansas City, said he came away resold on a job he had just accepted.
“The base model of a village of tiny houses is to provide the housing and get the folks in and off the street,” Gage said. “Our success rate is north of 84% which is unheard of and transitional housing so we’re really excited to replicate that model here for Sioux Falls.”
That number of 84% is the percentage of Veterans who transitioned to permanent housing after staying in the VCP tiny home village.
Gage said there’s more than 40 homeless veterans according to the latest count by the South Dakota Housing Development Authority. Gage said that count uses a specific definition for Veterans and for homeless. He noted VCP defines a Veteran as anyone who took the oath to serve, regardless of military discharge status.
He said the Sioux Falls VCP tiny homes village will aid stress on other homeless nonprofits in Sioux Falls.
“Once you set foot in one of those tiny houses and you realize there’s an individual who is in a bad spot and all their immediate needs are met,” Gage said. “They don’t have to worry about security, they don’t have to worry about safety, they don’t have to worry about food. They’re good and they can decompress. They don’t have to worry about surviving. Now they can actually worry about whatever it is that brought them to that point.”
Gage joined the South Dakota Air National Guard after high school in 2001 and served for more than a decade. He took classes from USD while serving and finished his bachelor’s degree in 2012. At USD, he became involved with Student Veterans of America and worked for that organization after college before moving back to South Dakota to raise his family.
He was working in real estate when he learned about the VCP project and got involved before being asked to apply for the position of executive director.
“This is one of those jobs that is so perfect. It’s not even something that was on my radar,” Gage said. “My background has brought me to a lot of different communities to work with veterans and family brought my wife and I back to South Dakota.”
Gage said he’ll continue to call on people to learn about how to get involved and find ways to help support the organization. You can find more details on the VCP website.
He said a group of 20 volunteers already have helped get the site ready for this week’s groundbreaking.