Tiny homes for Canada’s larger-than-life heroes

Photo by Homes for Heroes Foundation

In November, on Remembrance Day, we remember those who have given their lives in service for Canada. Nevertheless, there are thousands of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) veterans who return after their service who struggle to find their way home.

Calgary-based Homes for Heroes Foundation has tackled this issue head-on, and this November is opening Canada’s first village of tiny homes in Calgary, providing an innovative and caring solution to homelessness among veterans.

The Homes for Heroes Foundation was the idea of Murray McCann and co-founded with Dave Howard in response to the growing number of military veterans struggling to reenter civilian life after leaving the armed forces.

Homes for Heroes Foundation President, Dave Howard, has been helping Canadian Armed Forces for more than 13 years. He has been running the Field of Crosses project for founder Murray McCann for more than 10 years. The Field of Crosses is an annual display of white crosses on Memorial Drive, in Calgary. The crosses have the names of military personnel on them who lived in Southern Alberta and lost their lives during active service with the Canadian forces.

McCann approached Howard three years ago with an idea he had to use tiny homes as a way to support homeless veterans.

“We started to look into this issue across Canada and realized that homelessness was an epidemic. The government estimates that there are about 3,500 homeless veterans, but the research we did showed the number is closer to 6,000,” said Howard.

There are an estimated 180 homeless veterans in Calgary and 200 in Edmonton. Many of the homeless counts are done in shelters. Veterans are a proud group and are not self-identifying. There are also many who move from couch to couch, who are not included in the counts.

After realizing the extent of the problem, the first goal was to get a better understanding of why this was happening and speak to veterans to understand what type of program would work. They quickly realized that if they were going to build houses, it had to be more than four walls and a roof. They needed to build communities.

“We realized that if we were going to build something, we had to build a village in a city and have access to amenities, social services and provide full wraparound services,” explained Howard. Understanding and addressing the reasons that veterans become homeless is at the heart of the program.

“Veteran” is a great misnomer for people, as they only think of a veteran as their great-grandfather that served in the Second World War. But there are a lot of veterans that come back from Afghanistan and peacekeeping missions that are suffering, with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and other disorders,” said Howard.

Canada Armed Forces has troops on peacekeeping missions with the United Nations, operates counter-terrorism operations in the Arabian Sea, and responds to international emergencies around the world.

“The reason I started working with veterans is because I had a grandfather who was suffering. He had an injury, post-traumatic stress. What I saw was a broken person, and it drove me to learn more about what was happening with vets, and I discovered that there are thousands of veterans that need our help,” explained Howard.

“When we consulted with veterans about what they wanted and needed, their goal is to come into a program to work on themselves and get back on their feet, and then exit the program to make room for the next individual. So this isn’t meant to be permanent housing, it’s transition housing and people can stay for one year or three years. The idea is to get veterans reintegrated back into civilian life and then go on to become mentors for the next tenants,” he added.

There are 15 homes in the village designed in a barracks-style format that is again part of the larger community of Forest Lawn. Each home is stocked with all the furniture, cooking utensils, cleaning products and linens needed. Veterans are allowed to have service animals in their new homes. There is also a suite available so that family members can come and spend the night and take part in the programs.

Within the village there is an on-site counsellor and social services, providing post-traumatic stress disorder support and other rehabilitation programs tailored to meet each individual’s needs. When a veteran is ready for employment, they will work with employment services to take that next step.

Each of the homes is named after a fallen Canadian veteran. “The village is dedicated to those that have served that need our help and to those that have fallen,” said Howard. “It took a community to raise this village. The community as a whole has helped to cover the cost of the program. ATCO has donated $1.5 million and CP Rail has raised more than $800,000 for the foundation. Calgary is proud to support those that serve and those that continue to serve.”

For more information go to www.homesforheroesfoundation.ca.