There is much, well-deserved buzz about Calgary having a pulse of innovative creative thought and bright ideas.
Every once in a while, particularly when Calgary innovation blends with the city’s tremendous spirit of caring, there’s a creative, bright idea that is also a life-changer and genuinely touches people.
The most recent example is about to become a reality in Calgary’s Bridgeland community: Homes For Heroes – a community of peers, a support structure designed to meet individual needs, and a sense of place and belonging for Canadian military veterans experiencing homelessness.
It is the focal project of the Homes For Heroes Foundation (HFHF) – the new registered charity of the McCann Family Foundation and Canadian Legacy Project – with the goal to end homelessness among Canadian military veterans.
“Sadly, it is a silent but huge problem,” explains David Howard, co-founder and president of Calgary’s Homes For Heroes. “It’s inexcusable that, according to Veterans Affairs Canada (VA), there are 2,600 or more veterans, approximately 180 just in Calgary, who are homeless. They have been through a lot and they have seen a lot. They have various difficulties integrating into life back home and they often disengage from their families.
“Tragically, they often turn to isolation and self-medication and homelessness, although according to VA, many homeless vets don’t identify themselves as vets. Not only are they a proud group, they also don’t want to risk being disqualified for benefits if they identify themselves as vets.
“The Homes For Heroes village (a Canadian and a Calgary first of its kind) will feature 20 tiny homes, a resource centre, community gardens and memorials to Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan.
“In contrast to other traditional homeless services, Homes For Heroes will provide veterans with privacy, security, peer-to-peer support and the ability to integrate back into society at a comfortable pace,” Howard explains.
He is infectiously gung-ho and caringly empathetic about the unique project being a much-needed and special community.
Home For Heroes will be an intimate village of 300-square-foot homes – built by major partner ATCO – with full kitchens, bathrooms, showers, a bed and a desk. “The tiny size is intentional,” he notes. “A conventional 800-900-square-foot apartment would be overwhelming.”
Each of the 20 homes is designed open-concept style in a barracks layout to provide each “vet tenant” with a home facing a central common area to provide the feeling of community. The village will include a resource centre with a full-time counsellor and a room the vets can book for visiting family or friends as part of the healing process.
HFHF is leasing the land and the buildings with no funding from either the provincial or federal government.
Howard points out, “This is by no means a free ride. The vets will pay rent to live at Homes For Heroes and the rents will cover the project’s operating fund. And when a ‘vet tenant’ is ready to leave the village, they will mentor a new tenant.
“We are very proud of Homes For Heroes,” he adds with enthusiasm and emotion. “And we plan to have some vets all moved in and ‘at home’ by Remembrance Day.”