Non-profit wants to build “tiny” veteran homes in FM

Lester Kistner talks with Jan Garza following a presentation to the Fort Madison City Council on a program called 2x4s for Hope, which builds tiny, fully furnished homes for homeless veterans. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – A charitable group wants to build homes for veterans in Fort Madison, possibly using dilipated properties for the new tiny homes.

The 2x4s for Hope is a charity founded by Mark and Chris Lawrence in Quincy to build the small homes for veterans struggling with finding a place to live.

“As we know our veterans aren’t recognized enough for what they have sacrificed for our country,” said representative Lester Kistner.

Currently the group has already built close to a dozen homes in six communities in Illinois, including Quincy, Rushville, Mt. Sterling, Lincoln, Carthage and in Madison near St. Louis.

Kistner said the group wanted to expand the program into Fort Madison by taking dilapidated homes and rebuilding them into homes veterans need, which in turn helps the community.

He said the group starts the homes and builds them from foundation to a completely furnished home in just eight days. The framing takes 84 2x4s and creates homes that are 16×36, which is just under 600 square feet.

“But plans have been developed that maximize every square inch and when you see the inside, it really looks roomy,” Kistner said.

The group starts the homes on a Saturday and works for the next week to finish. The veteran selected for the home gets to see the property at the beginning, but then they don’t get to see the work until the project is completed.

“When the veteran gets it on the following Sunday it is completely furnished. It has food, dishes everything they need. It’s a complete home,” Kistner said.

The homes used to have budgets of about $25,000 before the pandemic, but with the impact of the pandemic on supply chains, Kistner said the costs have more than doubled to about $55,000 per home.

“But we don’t let that hinder us. We raise all the money through fundraising and we’re a non-profit so everything we bring in goes out.”

Kistner said if the city council and mayor are willing to support the project, they will set up a meeting with the founders.

Kistner said messages of encouragement are written on the 2x4s and then they are used as part of the structure. The veteran gets to see those messages before the building is completed.

Community volunteers come into the area on the Saturday the building is started.

The group will try to find a plot of land in the community and Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said the city will work with them to find a good location.

Kistner said he’s hoping the city can find some land to donate to the builds and then fundraising covers the costs of the buildings.

Mohrfeld said the city is excited to work with the group.

“There’s plenty of places we can think of, but we also want to make sure it’s the right parcel for success,” he said.

Kistner said the Lawrences will come into the city and look over the area to make sure the land is a good fit.

“Especially down by the railroad tracks, some of these veterans suffer severe PTSD so loud noises wouldn’t be healthy for them,” Kistner said.

He said even when the homes are completed and the veterans move in, the group stays in touch with them to make sure they are getting everything they need in the home.

In many cases once the veterans are moved into the new home, they come over to the next home being built and help with the process.

“It’s a win-win for all of us and doing a good service for all our veterans,” Kistner said.

Mohrfeld said there may be some issues to sort out through with the city’s planning and zoning, but the group has the city’s full support.

Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker made a contribution to the group’s cause immediately after the meeting.

Stephanie Warner, who was also on hand as a member of the group, said in many cases the veterans who get the homes have very little in the way of possessions. She said that’s why the group provides everything the veteran would need in the home right down to paper clips and staples.

Mohrfeld told Kistner and Warner to try to arrange a meeting with city officials next month.

In other action, the council:
• approved the completion of the parking lot at 8th Street and Avenue F
• approved change orders for work on Hwy. 61 from 6th to 10th streets, work on the Pen City Parking Lot at 8th and Avenue H, and on the FMCH Community Health Foundation portion of the P.O.R.T. trail to Rodeo Park.
• approved the appointment of Jerry Schulz and Al Schulte to the Construction Board of Appeals, the reappointment of Glenda Schneider to the Construction Board of Appeals, and Dan Bahl to the Airport Commission.

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