New nonprofit Fox Hole Homes has a hairbrained scheme to house homeless veterans– and so far, it’s working
The drive onto No. 60 Rattle Snake Road is easy to miss.
The gravel road, probably not wide enough for two cars,Â meanders through the desert between Alamogordo and Tularosa. Cacti and chaparral grow low to the dusty ground. No trees offer shade.
Behind the Josefoski home, planted on this unlikely plot of land just east of U.S. Highway 54/70, is a 120-square-foot residence two years in the making rises out of the dirt. It is the first project by Fox Hole Homes, a small but significant step in realizing Ryan Timmermansâ€™ and Ted Brinegarâ€™s Â vision of creating a community of off the grid, sustainably-built homes to house struggling homeless veterans. Brinegar and Timmermans had met earlier this year, having had nursed the same wild, ambitious plan completely unaware of each other.
A downward spiral
Timmermans served in the U.S. Army Reserves in Afghanistan. For ten months, he worked up to 16 hours a day, always toward a mission given to him. His teammates would take a bullet for him, throw themselves on a grenade for him, and he would do the same for them. Timmermans had a sense of purpose and accomplishment in his work there, and he didnâ€™t realize until he got back to North Carolina how important that was.
â€œI struggled pretty bad,â€ Timmermans said. â€œThe reason is I was separated from my teammates. â€˜Cause Iâ€™m a reservist, we all go back to our homes. I didnâ€™t have a mission any longer and I was unemployed. Those combinations just got my head into a really bad place.â€
His days felt empty. He found himself living aimlessly amid what now felt like a petty society.
â€œI remember walking through the airport when I got back and there were these two guys passionately fighting about which was a better player on the TV screen when they were watching a sports game,â€ Timmermans said. â€œI just remember thinking, is that really important? â€¦ It was like, I donâ€™t belong here anymore, this is no longer my culture.â€
Timmermans went back to Afghanistan as a contractor to get out of his funk. While there, he started looking into ways he could live the lifestyle he thought he needed to live to keep his head on straight at home in the United States.
A seed grows in the desert
He made a plan. To give himself a sense of purpose, freedom and work he thought he needed, Timmermans decided he would build his own off the grid home. The home would be sustainably built and ecologically conscious. It would give him the separation he needed from what felt like a shallow culture, but without isolating himself. With no utility bills, it would save him from what he feared would be a rat race: working to earn money to throw at bills. Being a survival-minded military man, Timmermanâ€™s home would be better prepared to cope with a natural disaster or power grid failure than a conventional, on-grid home.
Earthships, first designed and built by Michael Reynolds in Taos, are constructed primarily of re-purposed and natural materials and designed to function entirely off-grid. Walls are made of earth pounded into spent tires or bricks made from old glass bottles or cans laid into cement. They collect and re-use rainwater, treat their own sewage, harvest solar and/or wind energy, face south, are built to side-step the need for traditional heating and air conditioning systems and include greenhouses for perennial home agriculture.
Timmermans found his match. And if this could work for him, he thought, imagine how many other struggling veterans it could work for. He should build a community, he thought, where veterans could live in Earthships and support each other. They could be as independent of the rest of society as they wanted to be, something he believes could be key in getting homeless veterans off the streets.
â€œReally, part of homelessness is the fact that youâ€™re free,â€ Timmermans said. â€œYouâ€™re truly, truly free â€¦ If we can recreate that feeling and they have no bills, they can progress as if they were having a (traditional) house with bills.â€
He began to tell his instructors in Taos about a plan he was hatching to create a community where veterans could build their own Earthships to live in.
He was told it was already being done, and a preliminary build would start Oct. 3.
A different path
Brinegar met Timmermans for the first time about three months ago, when Brinegar stopped by the Earthships community in Taos to visit a colleague working with him on Fox Hole Homes, and was introduced to the veteran he had been unknowinglyÂ sharing his dream with.
Timmermans said he immediately began to quiz Brinegar. How similar was their vision? How prepared was Brinegar to bring it to fruition?
â€œHe had thought everything I had thought of,â€ Timmerans said. â€œI was amazed.â€
Timmermans decided to join the Fox Hole Homes team.
â€œIt worked out magically,â€ he said.
Unlike Timmermans, Brinegar never served in the armed forces.
Brinegar has a reverence for the military and a personal understanding of how combat experience can affect a soldier because his father served five tours in Vietnam.
He had wanted to follow in his fatherâ€™s footsteps, but wasnâ€™t accepted to serve due to a lung condition. Instead, he works as the Community Support Coordinator at Holloman Air Force Base.
In JanuaryÂ 2014, Brinegar brought his wife to stay in the veryTaosÂ Earthship communityÂ where Timmerans would eventually learn the trade of building and maintaining theÂ eco-conscious homes. Brinegar had long harbored an affinity for the sustainability-minded structures and hoped to convince his wife to consider living in one with him.
â€œI went away from that saying I want one, but some veterans need this,â€ Brinegar said.
His vision to create an Earthships community for veterans began to take form.
Back on base, Brinegar bounced the idea off his friend and colleague, Darron Williams, a veteran and the Recovery Care Coordinator at Holloman Air Force Base.
â€œIt was all downhill from there,â€ Brinegar laughs.
Fast-forward two years, Brinegar is back in Taos, being questioned by a skeptical Timmermans, winning him over with his grand vision.
The site at Rattle Snake Road is not intended to grow into the full-fledged, self-sustaining veterans community that Brinegar, Timmermans and Williams are working toward.
Rather, the group is currently out to prove the Fox Hole Homes dream is achievable.
They are building two Earthship efficiency units on the Josefoski property, which the Josefoskiâ€™s are separately hoping to transform into a non-profit called Fiddlerâ€™s Green that provides transitional housing for homeless veterans. The two Earthships Fox Hole is building there will be used by Fiddlerâ€™s Green towards that end.
Fox Holeâ€™s final product, should they achieve it, will include 40 homes built by homeless veterans, tailored to the individual veteranâ€™s needs. They will, accordingly, range in size to accommodate single individuals, couples or families. A mandatory 20 hours of service per month to the community on the part of those moving in will help foster camaraderie and community. Veterans will put Habitat-for-Humanity-like “sweat equity”Â into building their own Earthship homes, too, and they will be responsible for the maintenance and gardening their homes require.
The vision extends far beyond just the homes, though. The men hope to create â€œcottage industryâ€ work, like building furniture or repairing cars, that veterans in the community can learn, teach other and use to bring in income, if they want to. A veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example, might need the freedom that comes with this sort of self-employment to work around PTSD episodes.
Fox Hole also hopes to one day provide on-site mental health services for the veterans in their communities.
Some Earthship developments include a rental cabin-like unit that generates revenue. Williams pictures using this model to generate funds to pay a mental health professional dedicated to serving the Fox Hole community.
If all goes well, theyâ€™ll expand. In the long term, they hope more than just one Fox Hole Homes community will be built.
â€œWe want to take 6-10 men teams from this community that we build, and we want to transplant them somewhere that they want to be, and start another one,â€ Timmermans said. â€œNow theyâ€™ll have something thatâ€™s greater than themselves. We have a mission, theyâ€™re working towards it.â€
But that could be a long way off. For now, the group is looking for a location where they can build such a community here in the Tularosa Basin, an ideal location to capture rain and groundwater without robbing anyone ofÂ water downstreamÂ â€”Â something they hope to explore in the futureÂ with theÂ New Mexico State Engineerâ€™s Office under the Sustainable Development Testing Site Act.
Currently Fox Hole is awaiting the funding they need to buy land to build on. Theyâ€™ve got a campaign on Indiegogo.com, a crowd-funding site, that has brought in $1,450 in two months â€”Â a drop in the bucket of their $500,000 goal. Williams said they are also applying for state and federal grants.
While they wait for the money they hope will roll in, Fox Hole is accepting donations in the form of glass bottles and old tires, which they need to build the homes, and volunteer hours at the construction site.
On that front, Fox Hole has been very lucky. Every Saturday, the men say, the build site is swamped with volunteers eager to contribute to the building of the demonstration homes.
â€œI look around and go how did all this happen?â€ Brinegar said. â€œThereâ€™s a level at which I canâ€™t help but feel this is just meant to be, and as long as we continue to take the little next steps, it will continue to grow.â€
by Haley Gray via Alamogordo Daily News