In 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported 555,742 people across the U.S. were experiencing homelessness on a single night. Of those individuals, 40,056 were veterans of the United States Military. That means veterans make up 9% of the country’s entire homeless population. (1)
Homelessness in America is a crisis met with a number of programs for aid. Shelters, safe havens, and charity efforts offer supplemental relief in most major cities. Government programs sponsor some homeless recovery, such as the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). However, the provisions under these programs rarely present a permanent, sustainable solution to meet the needs of these men and women. Thankfully, members of our own communities are stepping up to make greater changes in the lives of homeless veterans.
Tiny Homes Offer a New Start to Homeless Veterans
US Army Corporal Chris Stout took a serious look around him after returning home from Afghanistan with an injury. He found work assisting other veterans that suffered from homelessness, and saw much of what the system lacked. In 2015, he founded the Veterans Community Project to make affect real change.
His organization started with projects like procuring free bus passes for homeless veterans in Kansas City. Next, they decided to tackle a greater issue. Where could these veterans go after they got off the bus? You might be surprised at its simplicity: Stout gave homes to the homeless veterans of Kansas City. Tiny homes, to be exact. In January of 2019, the VCP completed the first 13 units in a new community made specifically for the homeless veterans of Kansas city. By the end of 2019, they aim to have 50 homes altogether.
Each home is complete with a full kitchen, bathroom, a sleeping space, and household supplies. The homes themselves give residents the opportunity to learn skills like maintaining their own home, cooking, and living with neighbors. The community also provides access to medical, dental, and other essential services. What’s more, though, is the units provide privacy and a sense of ownership to the tenants. These are all essential provisions homeless individuals are stripped of on the streets and in shelters. This basic form of housing gives these individuals something shelters and handouts never could. With a private roof over their heads, these individuals regain their basic humanity. Stout found this to be their greatest ally when trying to rebuild their lives.
Homeless Veterans Face Challenges
When veterans return from service, they can face many challenges reintegrating into day-to-day life. Some veterans end up homeless. One city in Canada is addressing the issue of homeless veterans by providing housing in a village of tiny homes.
Veterans face many of the same societal challenges as civilians such as the shortage of affordable housing. And they have added struggles that come from multiple or extended deployments. These challenges can lead to problems with housing stability. In early 2019, there were an estimated 37,085 American veterans experiencing homelessness. And there are more than 3,500 homeless veterans in Canada.
Homes for Heroes
One organization has made it its mission to find a solution for homelessness among veterans in Canada. The Homes for Heroes Foundation has chosen to address the problem by building villages of tiny homes.
According to the Homes for Heroes Foundation’s website, their “mission is to provide a caring, innovative and comprehensive solution to homelessness among our veterans.” This is happening through the affordable housing villages they’re planning to build in major Canadian cities. The Foundation will also provide training, resources, and services to veterans to help them meet the long-term goal of living independently.
Calgary Tiny House Village
Homes for Heroes opened its first tiny home village for homeless veterans in Calgary on November 1, 2019. The village consists of 15 tiny homes, each of which is 275 square feet. The tiny homes have a kitchen, dual-function sofa and Murphy bed, bathroom, and built-in storage. Every tiny home has WiFi, basic cable, and a phone line.
“The idea behind the village is to bring the veterans together so that they can interact and support each other,” Don McLeod, who works for the organization, said in an interview with CTV’s ‘Your Morning’.
He had interviewed about 16 veterans and found that most of them were dealing with difficulties regarding finances, mental health, or substance use. On the topic of the organization’s process, McLeod said, “We find them, we’re going to house them, and we’re going to give them the opportunity to engage with programs we’re going to provide for them.”
According to McCleod, the ultimate goal of the villages is to help veterans transition to independent living. He said, “The program… will give them a place to stay and sleep, and then we can work together as a team to move them forwards… in their lives.” (4)
And other community organizations have stepped in to help, showing support for the project. Both the local food bank and Veterans Affairs have provided assistance.
“We’ve had so many different organizations working so hard to assist in this project, which is why I say this is going to be such a wonderful success,” McCleod told CTV’s Your Morning.
Veterans are able to stay in the village as long as they need to. However, McCleod would like to see the veterans living independently within two years.
Homes for Heroes hopes to eventually have tiny home villages all across Canada. They are currently planning another village with the city of Edmonton.