Courtesy the Homes for Heroes Foundation

In a Canadian first, a village of 16 tiny homes, covering the equivalent of three city lots and occupied entirely by homeless veterans, is coming to Calgary’s Forest Lawn neighbourhood in spring 2019.

Each furnished home – named after a veteran who lost his or her life in Afghanistan – will be approximately 300 square feet and will include a bathroom, kitchen and living room that doubles as a bedroom. There will also be a resource centre on site, with counselling services available.

The Homes for Heroes Foundation is spearheading the initiative. Foundation president David Howard says his aim is to create similar villages across Canada.

“Homelessness among veterans is a huge problem,” said Howard.

While Veterans Affairs Canada claims there are some 2,600 homeless veterans across the country, Howard believes that number is really between 5,000 and 7,000, with 250-300 of them living in Calgary.

“Veterans are a proud group,” he said. “They don’t self identify.”

Howard credits difficulties in transitioning from military to civilian life as the main reason for veteran homelessness. “A lot are suffering from stress, from PTSD,” he said. “A veteran could be walking the streets of Calgary but feels he’s actually still on the battlegrounds of Afghanistan.”

Each village comes with a $2.5-million price tag. Homes for Heroes pays for building costs and the running of the programs, while one of the project’s partners, The Mustard Seed, will pay for the on-site counsellor. Using the social-support funds available to them, veterans will pay modest rent for their accommodation, which will go towards operating costs.

“The tiny homes are like barracks, and that resonates with the vets. It allows a community.” – David Howard, Homes for Heroes Foundation president

Howard says if Homes for Heroes meets its target of two tiny-home villages for each major centre, the problem of veteran homelessness can be “eliminated within 10 years.”

Unlike some affordable housing projects, Howard says the aim is for vets to leave the village after they have healed. “We believe the average stay will be two years,” he said.

Howard says he’s often asked why Homes for Heroes isn’t building up (i.e., apartment style) instead of out. Not only is the cost for an apartment-style residence much greater, but, he says, apartments lend themselves to hoarding and isolation.

“The tiny homes are like barracks, and that resonates with the vets,” he said. “It allows a community.”

Howard says the residents for the first village have already been selected with help from the Mustard Seed. Each house is built in a factory operated by ATCO – one of the village’s building partners – and will be transported to the site for assembly.

“The vets are here to be good neighbours,” said Howard. “We don’t believe there’s any better person to stand on guard for a community than someone who has stood on guard for the country.”