Tackling Veteran homelessness through tiny homes and big support

tiny homes
A bird’s eye view of the tiny homes community, seen here in an artist’s conceptual image, in Calgary was ready for occupancy on October 1, 2019. Built by ATCO in partnership with Homes for Heroes Foundation, The Mustard Seed and the Canadian Legacy Project, it provides Canadian Armed Forces Veterans at risk for homelessness with support resources and services.

Ashley Materi, 3rd Canadian Division Public Affairs

Dave Howard, president and co-founder of the Foundation, has spent more than a decade bringing awareness to an array of issues that Canada’s Veteran population may experience. In 2008, he developed a charity called the Canadian Legacy Project that connects Veterans living in poverty with community support resources and serves as a voice for the former CAF members.

His passion for giving Veterans a hand up was cultivated while growing up with a grandfather who was a naval officer in World War II who he said came back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, alcoholism and a bad temper.

“I saw firsthand what can happen when somebody needs help and they don’t get it, so I want to make sure that other families don’t experience the same,” said Howard.

A 2016 Government of Canada National Shelter Study estimates that approximately 2,400 Veterans are accessing homeless shelters, but Mr. Howard and his team believe that number to be more than double that. He explains that Veterans are proud and are not looking for handouts, so many are hesitant to identify as Veterans when accessing these services.

While the idea of building tiny homes for Veterans has seen success in the United States, what sets H4H apart is the integrated social services and supports offered to all Veterans housed by the Foundation.

In Calgary, H4H partners, the Mustard Seed and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), offer a full program of support which includes:

• One-on-one counselling with a full-time, on-site caseworker
• Group therapy sessions
• Psychological services
• Physical therapy
• Medical care
It also involves:
• Life skills training
• Employment training
• Work placement opportunities

Howard says that this comprehensive approach to support was developed after speaking to over 100 Veterans and asking how they could best be assisted.

Another key aspect to the program as it becomes more established will be mentorship between H4H graduates and those who are new to the tiny-home village.

Many family members of the Fallen were in attendance for the opening ceremony on October 28, 2019, as well as sponsors and members of the Foundation. Brigadier-General Stephen Lacroix, Commander of 3rd Canadian Division, represented the Canadian Army at the event.

Tenants began moving into the first H4H village at the beginning of October in southeast Calgary.

Coming in at 275 square feet, the 15 energy-efficient modular homes in the Calgary village were built by ATCO, a partner of H4H. ATCO leveraged their expertise in modular housing to build the homes and the surrounding campus. They feature a small but functional kitchen, a three-piece bathroom and a living area with a dual function sofa and Murphy bed.

The counsellor’s office and each unit are named after Fallen service members.

Each unit will be equipped with Wi-Fi, basic cable and a telephone line.
The open concept and extensive landscaping result in a park-like atmosphere with a community garden. This thoughtful design encourages peer support among residents and lends to a stronger sense of community.

The village provides stable housing and increases tenancy skills to support the independence of Veterans.

Rent is $600 per month, which covers costs for housing, counselling and all social services that are required to succeed. The Mustard Seed and VAC work with the tenants to help them access funds available to them from the city, province and federal government.

“Our new tenants are excited to be moving in the community and getting the support they need,” said Howard. “Some have been on the streets for years and the village is an opportunity to begin to rebuild their lives within a stable environment and a community of peers. Success reintegration back to civilian life is the main goal.”

Adam Beattie, president of the structures division of ATCO, said that the Foundation is looking at opportunities across Canada to expand the program outside of Alberta.

“This problem isn’t isolated, there is a broader group of Veterans that need support as they transition out of homelessness and back into the community,” he said. “We see potential into the future with the right support to get more of these initiatives off the ground.”