Homes 4 the Homeless

Calgary welcomes homeless veterans to tiny home village

(CTV) – On November 1, 2019 a village of tiny homes for Canadian veterans in Calgary welcomed new tenants as the Homes for Heroes Foundation marked the beginning of its pilot project to provide housing and other support to struggling ex-servicemen.

“The idea behind the village is to bring the veterans together so that they can interact and support each other,” said veteran support worker Don Mcleod on CTV’s Your Morning Friday.

“We find them, we’re going to house them, and we’re going to give them the opportunity to engage with programs we’re going to provide for them,” he said.

Mcleod said he had interviewed around 16 veterans so far and found that “the majority are coming from the homeless environment,” with financial, mental health or substance use difficulties.

“The program… will give them a place to stay and sleep, and then we can work together as a team to move them forwards… in their lives,” said Mcleod, adding that the “ultimate goal” will be to transition the veterans back to independent living in the broader community.

Mcleod said that the response from the community has been “incredible,” with organizations like the local foodbank and Veterans Affairs “stepping up” to provide support.

“We’ve had so many different organizations working so hard to assist in this project, which is why I say this is going to be such a wonderful success,” he said.

Interior of a tiny home in Calgary opened by Homes for Heroes Foundation

Mcleod said that the veterans can stay in the village as long as they need, but that his personal goal is to rehabilitate them back to independent living in the community “within a two year period.”

Adapting to civilian life can be hard for veterans, particularly those who served on overseas missions. Many return from service with physical and psychological scars, which can make finding jobs and housing difficult.

There are roughly 3,500 Canadian veterans who are currently experiencing homelessness, and more who are barely getting by.

The new Calgary village is made of 15 tiny houses arranged in a U-shape around an open green space. The village also contains a resource centre, a counsellor’s office, and a suite specifically for visiting family members.

Having different resources included in the community allows residents to “get an understanding of what support they need,” according to Homes for Heroes co-founder David Howard.

“Whether that be post-traumatic stress, whether we are dealing with addiction, career re-training, education and so forth,” he said.

The tiny homes are each under 300 square feet, and include the basics of an apartment: a kitchen, a bathroom and a place to sleep. They may be small, but they’re designed to look modern and feel more spacious than they are, with murphy beds that fold up into the wall and relatively large front decks.

They also come with essentials such as cooking utensils, cleaning products and linens, so they can truly serve as a fresh start.

Former Cpl. Matthew Blencowe may have landed on his feet when he retired after more than seven years of service, but he told CTV News Calgary that he understands the struggle.

“Things start sliding, one thing adds to another and things start spiraling for guys and before you know it, you don’t know where to turn,” said Blencowe, who served in the Canadian Forces.

Brig.-Gen. Steven Lacroix told CTV News Calgary that communities like this go “a long way to give (homeless veterans) some dignity back, put them in a community that they would understand.”

The units were designed and constructed by ATCO — a contribution of $1.5 million. The Calgary village is set to officially open on Nov. 1, when tenants will start to move in.

The tenants were chosen by The Mustard Seed, a social agency partnering with Homes for Heroes within Alberta to assess the needs of veterans experiencing homelessness. Homes for Heroes is currently developing an Edmonton village, and hopes to expand to B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and the Maritimes.

Tiny homes have been looked at as a potential way to combat homelessness in numerous cities in Canada, such as Toronto and Guelph. But Homes for Heroes is the first initiative to use tiny houses specifically to address veteran homelessness.

A fact that was not forgotten by the designers: in Calgary’s village, there is a plaque dedicated to a different fallen soldier outside every home.

“I think it gives guys hope,” said Blencowe. “It gives guys a sense of community. It gives them a sense of belonging again.”