Pete Buttigieg talks tiny houses, Trump and veterans during Kansas City campaign stop

Kansas City’s tiny home village for veterans has “cracked the code” for getting veterans the support they need to move their lives in the right direction, presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg said during a tour Wednesday.

The South Bend, Indiana, mayor is one of more than 20 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. He toured the tiny home village with Mayor-elect Quinton Lucas and Jason Kander, who will lead a national expansion of the veterans’ housing program to eight more sites. A location in Denver has already been identified.

The 240-square foot homes at East 89th and Troost were constructed by Veterans Community Project which provides transitional housing in addition to wraparound services.

“I’m thrilled to have had the chance to see this,” said Buttigieg, who’s a veteran. “It’s got me full of ideas for my own home community in South Bend and for the country at a time when everybody’s talking about how we support the troops, but we’re still struggling to make good on that mutual promise across the United States.”

Jerry Le Sueur, an Army veteran who has been living in one of the tiny homes since December, said it’s been a blessing.

His message for the politicians visiting Wednesday: This works.

Buttigieg said communities aren’t waiting for things to get resolved at the national level.

“They’re finding solutions, they’re putting in the connective tissue,” he said.

But he noted more needs to be done for veterans at the federal level, including supporting local projects like the tiny house village and addressing issues like wait times at the VA.

Lucas said VCP fills a gap that local, state and federal government can’t.

The project is on track to complete 49 homes and a community center at the Kansas City site by November.

Kander, who is also a veteran, will lead a national expansion effort for the program. He withdrew from Kansas City’s mayoral race last fall to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I started that process and realized ‘Wow, that’s a little bit more difficult than I anticipated,’ and I’m a person in a good position to navigate that process,” he said Wednesday.

Kander sought services at VCP.

“I have been inspired by not just the leadership, but the results of the organization since I first walked through the door,” he said.

While Kander won’t rule out another political run, he said he’s focused on VCP.

“One of the big differences in my life right now is that I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what I might do next or about my future, because that was often a lot more pleasant thought than what I was going through at that moment,” he said. “And I’m really enjoying my life right now and I’m really enjoying this work.”

Bryan Meyer, co-founder of VCP, said other cities have looked to Kansas City as an example of a nonprofit and city taking action to address an issue like veterans’ homelessness.

Meyer said it was “humbling” to have Buttigieg visit.

Buttigieg said states like Missouri need to hear more from the Democratic party.

“It is nowhere written that these states must belong to one political party or another, but we’re never going to change that if we don’t engage and let people know in every state — red, blue and purple — what our values are,” he said.

He pointed to Kansas as “a remarkable example where a radical ideological experiment didn’t work out and now people are thinking past their partisan habits and just looking to get results.”

In November, Democrat Laura Kelly was elected governor and Democrat Sharice Davids was elected to the U.S. House.

Buttigieg also addressed racist tweets made by President Donald Trump, who told four progressive congresswomen of color to “go back” to their own countries.

“There will probably be another outrage to come, but it’s all part of a pattern, it’s part of a bigger picture and it’s part of why we need change in the White House,” Buttigieg said.

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Katie Moore covers crime and justice issues for The Star. She is a University of Kansas graduate and was previously a reporter in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas.