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Raleigh couple’s donation to support veteran housing in Tiny Homes Village

UNC graduates Tom and Mary Laraine “Larry” Young Hines have long advocated for more affordable housing in North Carolina and for services to support veterans of the military. So, when they first heard about the innovative Tiny Homes Village (THV) project, which will provide housing and assistance for people living with mental illness, they were eager to offer their financial support.

The Raleigh couple recently announced they are committing funding to the project to pay for one of the dozen-plus homes being constructed in the THV community. Their donation will specifically target one of the five “tiny homes” set aside for veterans.

“Larry and Tom have been enthusiastic supporters and advocates for the tiny homes project since it began,” praised Mary Beth Hernandez, the School of Social Work’s associate dean for development. “I’m so grateful that their generosity will ensure that a veteran with disabilities has a home.”

UNC, School of Social Work and government officials broke ground on the THV in November 2019. The planned community aims to provide affordable housing and services for adults living with persistent and severe mental illness and other health conditions and living on a fixed income. The community is being constructed at the Farm at Penny Lane, a therapeutic farm in Chatham County. When completed, the THV will include 15 houses of about 400-square-feet each, in addition to a shared community building.

“We think this is a very worthwhile project and that it can really help to turn people’s lives around,” said Tom Hines, a two-time UNC graduate, MS ’71 and MBA ’76.

UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health (part of the UNC School of Medicine), UNC School of Social Work and the nonprofit organization Cross Disability Services (XDS, Inc.) have led efforts to develop the community. Social work associate professor Amy Blank Wilson serves as co-director of the project and has worked with THV founder Thava Mahadevan for the last few years to get the housing model off the ground.

Donor funding is vital to the multi-million project’s success, she said.

“Our goal is to build these homes in an environment that is designed to foster community participation and health and well-being and with the hope that this project can serve as a model for similar communities,” said Wilson. “These goals are achievable because of the generous support of donors. We are so appreciative of the support and investment that Larry and Tom Hines have made in the Tiny Homes Village. We value their time and expertise and are deeply appreciative of their financial support for this project.”

That so many public and private partners have joined together to support the project is partially what attracted the couple to the endeavor. Before retiring, Tom Hines worked for years as a construction consultant, managing among other projects, the development of the Centennial Campus at N.C. State University – a massive undertaking that began in the mid-1980s and that is still ongoing. The campus revitalization has involved multiple public and private agencies, he said.

Such collaborations often bring together many different people from various disciplines with a broad range of expertise, all of which can be valuable to the long-term mission of a project, such as the Tiny Homes Village, added Larry Hines, who received a master’s degree in education from Carolina in 1971.

“Having people with different perspectives who are working together for the common good is so important,” said Larry, a charter member of the School of Social Work’s Board of Advisors.

The couple is equally excited to see supportive housing built for veterans of the military. Such efforts are personal for the family, which has a long history of service. Larry’s father served in World War II. Their son, Capt. Thomas Blair Hines, Jr., who received a dental degree from Carolina in 2000, currently serves with the U.S. Navy at Okinawa Naval Hospital. Tom completed two tours with the Navy in Vietnam, and Larry spent 13 months with the American Red Cross in the same war zone. Both said their experiences overseas helped to fuel their commitment to helping military veterans and their families.

“The challenging reception that many soldiers received after coming home from Vietnam made me more sensitive to the issues that veterans often face when leaving the military and returning to civilian life,” Tom Hines said. “When people get out of the military, all of a sudden, they’re in mainstream society, and nobody is looking after them anymore. Most make a good transition, but there are some cases where people really struggle with that problem. To the degree we can help, that’s what we want to do.”

Although a tiny homes community is not new, the current development is believed to be the first of its kind in the world that is being designed to provide not only affordable housing but additional services to residents, including access to healthy food and behavioral-health support. Because less expensive housing continues to be in short supply across the country, people living with serious mental illnesses often face homelessness, which can exacerbate their physical and mental health.

Larry Hines, who worked closely with social workers in Wake County for 18 years while serving as a volunteer guardian ad litem, understands the obstacles so many of these marginalized populations face, including people who are homeless and those living with a mental illness. She’s hopeful that the environment the Tiny Home Village aims to create will begin to address the needs of some of the state’s most vulnerable people.

“It’s not just about getting the homeless off the streets; that’s not enough,” she said. “But the Tiny Homes Village does offer the chance for these residents to get the help they need, and we’re just happy to be able to contribute toward such an important project.”