Thousands of Canadian veterans are homeless or without stable housing. Homes for Heroes, a charity, is trying to use construction and urban design to solve the problem.
The charity has begun building affordable urban villages in major cities across Canada where homeless veterans will be assisted in transitioning back into civilian life.
The villages consist of 15 to 25 individual tiny homes arranged in a park-like setting. All homes face inward to facilitate peer-to-peer support. Each home is less than 300 square feet in size, but fully equipped with all the features of a larger home. Each village also incorporates a central resource centre, counselling office, community garden and other amenities.
The charity completed its first village in Calgary last year and has a zoning application being processed for another one in Edmonton.
“We saw this growing problem year after year,” said David Howard, who co-founded Homes for Heroes with Calgary philanthropist Murray McCann. “While it’s great to come up with an idea, we needed to make sure it is practical.”
The team spent time meeting with more than 200 veterans living on the streets or in poverty. “In doing that it really became clear that they want to be in a community of peers,” said Howard. “The barracks-style format really fits that. They can look out for one another while also having privacy.”
Howard also explained that some who have lived on the street for a long time can feel a need to fill up a new space with possessions, leading to hoarding. He said this can impact their confidence and lead to further problems.
“The whole program is to build a community and family of veterans who share the same experiences, and look out for one another,” he said.
Howard noted that the group’s first project in Calgary wouldn’t have been possible without assistance from the construction community. ATCO – a builder with expertise in designing, building delivering modular construction projects- built the 15-unit project and donated $1.5 million to the charity.
“These tiny homes showcase ATCO’s urban design capabilities and will provide a home our military heroes will be proud to call their own – a small gesture when measured against their herculean sacrifice,” read a statement from the company.
Howard said the charity has also received massive support from PCL Construction and CP Rail. CP helped fundraise $900,000 for the charity and PCL has connected the project team with suppliers and contractors willing to donate or discount supplies and services.
“Having those leaders in the construction industry is such a key to this success,” said Howard.
Howard explained that modular construction allows the units to be prefabricated off-site while the site is being prepped. The method means a quick project delivery and minimal disruptions in the urban areas the charity plans to target.
In addition to assisting veterans, Howard sees the villages as opportunities to connect with the community and educate them about veterans. Veterans from the Calgary village are already out volunteering in the community. The village features park space that is open to the public and each unit is named after a fallen Canadian.
Howard explained that while the Canadian government estimates the country has 3,500 homeless veterans, he suspects the number is much higher. Those figures are from one-time counts done at homeless shelters where the respondents identify themselves as veterans – something many veterans may not do for a variety of reasons. There are also many without homes who are only on the street part of the time or couch surf. He believes the number is closer to 5,000 or 6,000.
“We are confident that a program like ours can end this issue in ten years,” said Howard.
When veterans enter the village, a plan to transition back into housing and society is developed for their specific needs.
“We are so grateful for Canadians and how they have shown respect for those who served,” said Howard. “Projects like this do not happen without their generosity.”
Howard said the charity is currently in discussions to plan villages in B.C., Manitoba and Ontario.