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Las Vegas nonprofit converts shipping containers into homes for vets

In lieu of a ribbon-cutting, Rick Rainey went to work on a 20-by-8-foot shipping container with a cutting torch.

The Builders United project manager proceeded to slice a “window” in the side of the steel container, the first step toward converting it into a rectangular home for a military veteran.

The demonstration Tuesday at Veterans Village in downtown Las Vegas set in motion the first phase of a project focused on housing veterans closely together. Ten shipping containers will be converted into prototype homes on the 4-acre Veterans Village No. 2 site on North 21st Street.

The nonprofit Veterans Village hopes to expand the project on a different downtown site to include 100 of the no-frills residences.

Other cities, including Reno and Seattle, have adopted similar strategies to use tiny homes to address homelessness.

“You can’t solve a homeless problem, ladies and gentleman, without building homes,” Arnold Stalk, founder of Veterans Village, said at the ceremony. “This is setting a precedent.”

The materials and labor needed to convert the containers have been donated by the private sector — something Stalk says is necessary in order to tackle homelessness in Southern Nevada.

‘Do it Vegas style’

Peter Guzman, the president of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, described the project as “the cure to the cancer” of homelessness.

Stalk, 64, the son of a World War II Navy veteran, said he has been planning the project since at least 2007. Before his father died, he told his son: “Do this, do it right, and do it Vegas style.”

“This is a place of peace,” Stalk said. “This is a place of service, it’s a place of humility. It’s a place where we honor our veterans every single day.”

Construction of The Village by Sands Cares, named for the major contributor to the project, is expected to be completed in March. Veterans Village will soon start accepting applications from its residents, who live in apartment units, to move in.

Stalk said he will lease the units, which will be compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, to low-income veterans for no more than $650 a month, with utilities and campus services included. With federal housing subsidies, veterans should pay no more than $200 out of pocket a month, he said.

The new containers were donated and shipped from China, he said.

On Tuesday, Stalk was also presented with congressional certificates of appreciation from U.S. Rep. Dina Titus and U.S. Sen.-elect Jacky Rosen. Laborers Local 872 also pledged to donate $25,000 to the project.

Ron Reese, a spokesman for Las Vegas Sands Corp., said Veterans Village has succeeded by taking chances.

“We view this as an investment, not a charitable donation …. an investment in an important cause: our veterans,” he said.

Better than barracks

Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Seroka also attended the groundbreaking.

Seroka, a former Air Force colonel and fighter pilot, gestured to a nearby model shipping container with hardwood floors and painted drywall that fits a bedroom, kitchenette, living room, bathroom and shower. He said the setup compared favorably with some military quarters.

“For some that served in the Middle East, this looks a little bit familiar, but what we lived in was not quite as nice,” he joked. “This says a lot about the commitment of the community to our veterans and our homeless across the board.”

In addition to providing housing alternatives, Las Vegas has a duty to assist veterans and their families as they transition out of the service and into the community, Seroka said.

He said he plans to start a veterans coalition in City Hall to work with Veterans Village, and a policy committee to “help tear down the barriers that our veterans and our military spouses face every day.”

“We can take care of the next generation to prevent them from needing this kind of housing by reaching out to them the moment they leave the service,” he said.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.

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