Ground broken in Harrisburg for ‘Tiny Homes’ veterans village

Ed Gruver//June 6, 2023

Volunteers and officials were part of the crowd that gathered Monday in Harrisburg for the groundbreaking of the Tiny Homes village for veterans. PHOTO/JOHN BIVINS, BIVINS PHOTOGRAPHY

Ground broken in Harrisburg for ‘Tiny Homes’ veterans village

Ed Gruver//June 6, 2023

Ground was broken Monday in Harrisburg for a “Tiny Homes” village for local veterans without homes. 

Seeking to end homelessness in Harrisburg for local veterans, Veterans Outreach of Pennsylvania (VOPA) is building 15 tiny homes and a community center on the wooded site by the PennDOT Riverfront Office Center. More than 100 supporters participated in the groundbreaking for the Tiny Home village that was formerly Phoenix Park. 

The VOPA project is the brainchild of retired businessman Tom Zimmerman of Lower Paxton and co-founder Valerie Fletcher, who passed away in August 2022. 

“Our objective is to give veterans a hand up, not hand-outs, as we work to restore the dignity and pride our veterans once had when they wore the uniform,” Zimmerman said in a statement. “They raised their right hand years ago and were willing to pay with their lives to defend liberty in America, with many of their brothers and sisters losing their lives after taking that pledge. It is tragic that some of the defenders of our homeland have no home to call their own.” 

The son of a World War II veteran, Zimmerman formed the nonprofit three years and has been fundraising with a board of volunteers. The VOPA project was donated five acres of land from Harrisburg philanthropist Peggy Grove, and received financial donations from American Legions, businesses, foundations, individuals, and VFWs. 

In honor of Grove, the village will be called Veterans Grove. 

“It would take me hours to thank all the people who gave so much of themselves to help us begin to build Veterans Grove,” Zimmerman said. “I will spend the rest of my life thanking you in words and actions.” 

State Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, Dauphin County Commissioners Mike Pries and Chad Saylor, and Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams were on hand for the groundbreaking and noted the urgent need for the project. The need is driven by the limited supply of affordable housing in Central Pennsylvania, many veterans experiencing difficulties following unexpected evictions, job loss, divorce, illness, fire, post-traumatic stress, and other challenging circumstances. 

“Our community has stepped up in a huge and heartwarming way to address that need by building a network of comprehensive support and a community of veterans helping veterans,” Zimmerman said. “Today is the fulfillment of a dream, and the inspiration to keep going.” 

Villages for homeless veterans have grown in popularity in several cities across the country. Each transitional home has a bed and bathroom. To forge friendships, create camaraderie, and lessen isolation, meals will be shared in the community center. 

Officials announced that while VOPA is close to its $4.1 million fundraising goal, fundraising continues to help defray rising costs driven by inflation, supply chain issues, and increasing lumber costs. 

Jordan Ames, a 21-year Marine and father of seven who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas of conflict, was hired in January as executive director of VOPA. Ames said churches, schools, and veterans’ groups have reached out to offer aid for homeless veterans. 

Serving as master of ceremonies at Monday’s ground-breaking, Ames said the goal of Veterans Grove is to fill local gaps in service. He cited the community’s convenient location and its proximity to public transportation, health care, educational sites, and places of worship.