After a few months away from the public spotlight, Jason Kander is back.
But Kander isn’t venturing into the electoral arena. Instead, he’s leading the national expansion of a group that is trying to eradicate homelessness among veterans.
Kander announced on Monday he’s joining Veterans Community Project, a Kansas City-based organization that provides assistance and housing to veterans. Kander will work full time for the organization and help it expand to eight other cities.
“Veterans are really disproportionately overrepresented in the homelessness population,” Kander said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio. “So if you’re successful at ending veterans' homelessness, you make an enormous dent in homelessness overall — which is obviously great for the country.”
Kander, a former Missouri secretary of state and state representative, developed a sizable national profile after running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
After he narrowly lost to U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Kander decided to run for Kansas City mayor — but pulled out last year after announcing he was seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
The Afghanistan War veteran said he learned about Veterans Community Project while receiving treatment through the Veterans Affairs. He said the group assisted him in navigating the VA system.
“And so, they helped me out a lot. I was really impressed by the organization,” Kander said. “And then, when I had sort of graduated weekly therapy, I was hanging around talking with the folks with the organization so much they said, ‘Hey, we’ve had hundreds of inquiries from around the country of folks who want us to come to their communities and do what we’ve done in Kansas City.’ They’ve effectively ended veterans homelessness in Kansas City. And they said, ‘Do you want to help with that?’
“And I jumped at the opportunity, and that’s what I’m doing,” he added.
Kander went on to say that he found that many people who were helped by the Veterans Community Project “still have a lot to offer in their community.” He added that “it’s not just a matter of getting them off the street, it’s a matter of, these are people with a unique set of skills and a unique life experience.”
Tiny houses help
The Veterans Community Project created a Veterans' Village in Kansas City comprised of tiny houses. Those structures, along with a case manager provided by VCP, are aimed at providing veterans a transition of sorts from being homeless to finding permanent housing.
“And what the people at our organization have done that’s so brilliant is they’re combat veterans who have built a homelessness solution with veterans in mind,” Kander said. “It replicates the network and the housing situation that folks were in right before they left the military. So it creates that supportive community again. It really gets at the really specific solutions that are needed to target veterans homelessness.”
VCP is privately funded, but it does partner with local governments. For instance, Kander noted that in Kansas City, the group teamed with city government to give people free bus passes. He also said the organization often deals with governments when trying to find property for the Veterans' Villages.
Kander said St. Louis is on VCP’s radar.
“St. Louis is definitely one of the communities that we are talking to, and looking at available land and that sort of thing,” he said. “Our objective, as you saw, is to expand to eight additional communities by the end of 2022 — and we’re in a lot of conversations in St. Louis to do that. And hopefully that works, and I believe it will.”
Since he announced his departure from the Kansas City mayor’s race, Kander has taken part in several interviews with national broadcast networks — including one with NBC’s Lester Holt last month. He told Holt he definitely would not be running for office in 2020.
And he told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday that he’s not thinking about running for office right now, adding that “one of the big differences about getting better is that I’m really happy with what’s going on in my life right now — so I don’t feel like I have to think about the future in order to get better.”
In fact, Kander quipped that one of the benefits of not running for an electoral office is he can openly tell people in interviews to donate money to his organization without being “uncouth.”
“If you think about it, most Americans want to do more for our veterans,” Kander said. “But I mean, what is the average person generally asked to do? Maybe stand up at a ballgame? Say, ‘Thank you for your service’ at an airport? This is a real opportunity to actually get involved and do something.”
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
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