HOMES FOR HEROES – OUR HOUSE MAGAZINE
A Calgary-based charitable foundation is set to break ground on a first-of-its-kind development aimed to help Canadian veterans, one tiny home at a time.
If Dave Howard had his way, the tiny home community project he has planned to help house homeless military veterans in Calgary would be in every major city across Canada.
As the president and co-founder of Homes for Heroes Foundation, a non-profit society, his idea is actually a pretty simple one. Take roughly 20 or 30 tiny homes, about 300 square feet in size, put them together on a small piece of land in the city and offer services like counselling and resources to help these war heroes get back on their feet.
Howard’s vision took a big step forward this spring when Homes for Heroes Foundation announced the first-of-its-kind community would soon break ground in Calgary’s Bridgeland community, on sub-leased land from the Canadian Institute for the Blind.
The first village will feature 20 tiny homes, a resource centre, and community gardens. Each tiny home will also include a memorial plaque in honour of a Canadian soldier who lost their life serving in Afghanistan.
The project for Howard is the culmination of a dozen years of charitable involvement in helping veterans in his community. And it’s definitely personal.
He became dedicated to the plight of veterans after an overnight stay with his estranged grandfather, a former Navy member. At the time, his grandfather was sleeping on a coach in a 200 square-foot room, having battled alcoholism once he returned to civilian life. While Howard explained his grandfather worked his way up to be president of a major company, he came back from service suffering from shell shock and fell all the way to the bottom because of alcohol.
Howard discovered his grandfather, who by this time was a security guard for the building of the company he was formerly president, had resorted to eating dog food out of can, and it shook him to the core.
“I realized there needed to be something done differently for veterans that are living in poverty and to help them get out of that.”
So 12 years ago, Howard started the Canadian Legacy Project which was tasked with advocating for Canadian veterans and creating programs to improve their lives.
The organization then partnered with Murray McCann and McCann family Foundation, a charity that funds a number of initiatives including the Field of Crosses Memorial Project and the placement of 500 crosses in a park on Memorial Drive, near downtown Calgary. Out of that partnership came Homes for Heroes.
Howard said they started looking at was being done for the veterans struggling to return to civilian life, and there wasn’t much. There were scattered facilities, but he found none that were offering full support services.
That’s when the two organizations came up with the idea of a community of tiny homes. As Howard explained, when veterans get accepted into the community, they’ll go through a detailed needs analysis and be provided counselling to help them get back to civilian life. The eventual goal is to have them get back to work and into a more permanent housing solution. Calgary-based The Mustard Seed will manage the social services, while residents will pay about $500 a month rent to live in each unit. Howard noted the rent will help cover the cost to maintain the community.
He said these 300 square foot units will have all the amenities of a larger home, but are also the perfect size for someone coming off the streets.
“The idea is for them to have their own space that is significant enough to have guests over but it’s also part of a community,” Howard said, adding he believes the problem of homeless veterans could be solved within six years with this type of community.
There are an estimated 2,500 homeless veterans in Canada, and another 160 in Calgary. However, Howard believes the number is much higher suggesting most veterans don’t like to self-identify out of pride and fear of losing what benefits they might have.
There are plans for a second community in Calgary and also one in Edmonton. The first project is expected to cost about $2 million to build and another $500,000 in a trust to keep the community operating in the future. Much of the funding comes from private companies including a $1.5 million donation from ATCO, an Alberta-based energy and logistics company.
Howard is confident the model could work across the country and he’s hoping to eventually see two tiny communities helping veterans in each major city across Canada. And he’s urging municipalities across the country to take note of the model, noting cities would only need to lend a portion of unused land for a few years. The communities can be erected and then dismantled in only a few short months.
“It is an answer to a lot of other issues,” he said. “This can fit a lot of demographics and I think municipalities would be wise to look at it and say ‘we should be doing this.’”
The project is drawing praise from local organizations that work with veterans, including Calgary’s Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Fund.
John Rathwell, the general manager of the poppy fund and veteran’s food bank, believes the model will be successful in helping veterans get back on their feet.
“Veterans are a proud sort, no veteran I know likes to ask for help,” he said. “This assistance, giving them a place of purpose and even training and support within their own peer groups… can help them move on whether it be through job counselling, mental and physical issues, and just giving them a sense of belonging.”
“This place will be important because it will now be a place they can call their home,” Rathwell said. “They were living on the streets where nobody knew or cared who they were and they’ll be able to take pride and help regain their self-esteem and be able to successfully transition back into civilian life.”