Christmas, the season of perpetual hope, was three months distant when Hoy M. Young Jr.’s home caught fire and burned to the ground.
Young managed to escape the Sept. 22 fire with his life and little more than a lungful of smoke.
“For a week after the fire, I was kind of hoarse,” he said.
As tiny house fever spreads across the country, a nonprofit is using these homes to help get veterans off the streets.
A native of Fayette County and a former resident of Charleston, West Virginia, Young enlisted in the Marine Corps in the early 1970s, as the United States was beginning to wind down its military presence in Vietnam.
“I’ve always loved my country,” he said. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
Young spent eight years in the Corps, part of it overseas and the latter part at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
In 1979, after attaining the the rank of staff sergeant, he returned to civilian life, resettling in West Virginia, where he said he helped establish FedEx shipping centers in the Beckley, Charleston and Parkersburg areas.
“I lived here 14 years — longer than I’ve lived in one place anytime in my life,” Young said as he stood outside his borrowed travel trailer at the site of his former house. From there — a wide spot on a ridgetop that also serves as the pathway for W.Va. 15 a few miles east of Flatwoods — an unbroken series of hills and ridges stretches toward the western horizon.
Days after the fire, neighbors discovered that Young, who has suffered multiple strokes and a heart attack in recent years, was still living at his home site, sheltering in the cab of his truck. When they realized Young had no intention of moving from the site, they provided a tent, which a local minister later upgraded to a loaned travel trailer.
Before long, a generator, jugs of drinking water and a portable restroom were brought to the site by local Samaritans to compensate for its lack of power and running water.
Meanwhile, 150 miles to the north, in the Pittsburgh area, Jesse Boggs, founder of Vision Appalachia, a faith-based community assistance and development organization, had recently taken delivery of a partially completed tiny house. Begun as part of a veterans’ outreach project at Robert Morris University, the tiny house had been languishing in a warehouse at the university for most of the previous two years.
“With help from doctors John Stakeley and Marcel Minutolo at Robert Morris, we were commissioned by the university to complete this tiny home with the condition that a deserving veteran would receive it,” Boggs said.
A retired minister who lives in Pittsburgh, Boggs spent his childhood in West Virginia.
Since founding Vision Appalachia with his wife, Debbie, seven years ago, the nonprofit and its volunteers have completed more than 70 home improvement projects in West Virginia’s Clay, Roane, Braxton, Nicholas and Kanawha counties. The organization also has helped with food pantries, vision and eyeglass clinics, and sports camps in its target counties.
After speaking with Young and viewing his living situation firsthand, Boggs felt confident a deserving candidate for the tiny house had been identified. Vision Appalachia’s board of directors concurred.
“Our goal was to have the tiny home finished and ready to move into by Christmas,” Boggs said.
Boggs then turned to his Clay County connections to prepare the tiny house for occupancy. Brian Holcomb and a group of his vocational education students at Clay County High School agreed to take on the task, and Boggs towed the tiny house to Clay.
Holcomb and his students redid the interior and exterior surfaces in white cedar from boards milled by an Amish community in Ohio. The tiny house is equipped with a washer and dryer, air conditioner, furnace, bathroom with shower, and kitchen sink and food preparation area supported by handcrafted cedar cabinets.
Because of the havoc COVID-19 was causing with school activities, though, the CCHS students were unable to apply the finishing touches to the project. Dan Carper, owner of Dan Carper Quality Construction in Elkview, picked up the torch and, by early December, the tiny house was ready for transport to Young’s homesite.
Young’s neighbors, including Timothy Rollinson and Dusty Hudkins, hauled off the charred remnants of the veteran’s home and began preparing the site it once occupied for a new dwelling.
On Dec. 7, the tiny house was towed to Young’s property. Among a group of well-wishers, volunteers and neighbors awaiting its arrival was Jesse Boggs.
“A lot of veterans of the Vietnam era say ‘Welcome home’ when they greet each other, since they didn’t get much of a welcome when they first came home,” Boggs said as he walked with Young toward the tiny house’s doorway. “So, welcome home, buddy. Here’s your new home.”
Boggs and Young then climbed a temporary stairway to look over the gleaming interior of the tiny house, which has since been equipped with a porch, stairway, bed, recliner and large cache of groceries by Gassaway Baptist Church.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Young, who moved into the house on Monday. “It’s beautiful. I’ve never seen so much kindness in all my life.”
“God loves you,” Boggs said. “That’s why we’re here.”