Kingston’s Homes for Heroes opens: ‘It truly takes a village to build a village’

Homes for Heroes is already exploring multiple other properties nationwide to create more villages. Toronto, London, Hamilton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Victoria, Kelowna, and Vancouver are all target cities.

A Pipe band heralds the grand opening of Kingston's Homes for Heroes village. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist. Michelle Dorey Forestell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Special guests from across Canada joined dignitaries in Kingston to celebrate the opening of the third Homes For Heroes Veterans’ Village just over a year after the sod was turned.

The grand opening of the Kingston Veterans’ Village on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, offered a glimpse inside the tiny homes village and the services that will be offered there. Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson, Kingston and the Islands Member of Parliament (MP) Mark Gerretsen, and other dignitaries were on hand to celebrate alongside the Homes for Heroes Foundation and families of fallen Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members at 730 King Street West.

`The Kingston Veterans’ Village is designed to support unhoused military veterans and offers wrap-around social support programming in partnership with Veterans Affairs to help them transition to civilian life. 

David Howard, co-founder of the Homes For Heroes Foundation, explained in a conversation with Kingstonist that there is a “very serious” application process for individuals who want to be a part of the Homes for Heroes program.

“The priority is Kingston,” he said, when asked if the veterans housed at the village are locals. “Once we fix and solve Kingston, then we might look to expand and offer the program to those outside the City. The idea is to fix the issue in Kingston, and then we’ll look beyond that. We won’t see that for a number of years.”

In fact, Howard stated, he is confident that the program could “solve the problem of veteran homelessness in Canada.” 

On the ramp of the main building, left to right: Gen. (ret.) Walter Natynczyk, Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs, and honorary patron of the Homes For Heroes Foundation; Sharon Johnston and former Governor General David Johnston, both honorary patrons of the Homes For Heroes Foundation; Brad Field, CEO and President of Homes For Heroes Foundation;  Steve Clark, Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes; Bryan Paterson, Mayor of Kingston; Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston and the Islands; David Howard, co-founder of the Homes For Heroes Foundation. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

“This is humbling… an amazing feat that has been accomplished,” Howard shared, explaining, “This is now three [villages]… We had 35 beds: Calgary has 15, Edmonton’s got 20. Now we have 20 beds here. So in two years, in Calgary and Edmonton, we have had 87 graduates: 87 people who were on the path of being unhoused and who were having a very difficult time. Most of them had post-traumatic stress. They came into the program, got what they needed, got jobs, got back on their feet, and then moved into more permanent housing. Then new clients moved in. So the fact that we’re now able to do that here out east is incredible… This is a Kingston celebration. The people of Kingston made this happen.”

Homes for Heroes is already exploring multiple other properties nationwide to create more villages. Toronto, London, Hamilton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Victoria, Kelowna, and Vancouver are all target cities.

Featuring 20 tiny homes, a resource centre, two counsellor offices, recreation spaces, and community gardens, the Kingston Veterans’ Village was built with support from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Province of Ontario, the City of Kingston, and major sponsors including the Britton Smith Foundation, the Smith-Homestead Foundation, Canadian Pacific Kansas City Ltd., and the Brick.

MP Gerretsen said, “The Kingston Veterans’ Village is a remarkable initiative and a testament to what can be achieved when we come together to support our veterans. I am proud of the federal government’s contribution, through the Affordable Housing Fund and the Veteran and Family Well-Being Fund, that has helped the Homes for Heroes Foundation to create this dedicated space in our community. It’s not just about providing housing, but also fostering a sense of community, camaraderie, and compassion for veterans in need.”  

Brad Field, President and CEO of the Homes For Heroes Foundation, stated, “This is an exciting time for our charity and the entire veteran community. We are humbled by the support given to us and our Canadian veterans to make this day a reality. Homes for Heroes’ mission is to integrate all unhoused Canadian military veterans back into their communities by providing housing and support services. It truly takes a village to build a village.”

Field choked up when he talked about the importance of the work done by the team at Kingston Village: “These are just some of the individuals who are boots on the ground working for our veterans. Every day, you are the heartbeat of this organization. And I’m proud to work alongside you daily to support our veterans.”

“It cannot go unsaid that when you’re working with a vulnerable population, not all days are blue skies and sunshine,” Field continued. “There are dark days with storm clouds, and that’s when we show up every day asking ourselves, what can we do to help or assist in making a difference in a veteran’s life today? Full transparency: we don’t always get it right. We make mistakes. We are constantly learning. Sometimes, as a society, we forget that every person has a story, and every story is different and unique. So what we have discovered is that if you enter every conversation or interaction with an open heart and an open mind to listening and learning, that is where the real magic happens, for both us and our veterans… Just know, with your support, you are personally changing lives. And in some cases you have saved the life of a veteran.”

The land for the Kingston Veterans’ Village was donated by the province of Ontario. 

Each home has a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette and livingroom. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

“Veterans answered the call when Canada needed them, and the sacrifices of these men and women gave us the freedom we enjoy today,” said Steve Clark, MPP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. “We have a solemn duty to provide these heroes with the support they need. I’m proud our government is supporting this innovative housing solution to provide them with a place to call home.” 

 A recent study by the Max Bell School of Policy Studies at McGill University estimated that there are now up to 10,000 Canadian veterans living in a state of homelessness across this country. 

David Howard noted, “In starting the charity, our team met with more than 200 veterans to understand what they wanted to see in a veterans’ housing program. We built our charity based on direct feedback from these veteran interviews. Our Canadian veterans are proud; they want a hand up, not a handout. We listened to what they had to say, and we designed our villages around meeting their needs.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled to see the Homes for Heroes project come to completion,” said Mayor Paterson, “as it officially opens its doors to help support men and women who have given so much for our country. I know I speak for the City as a whole when I say it has been an honour to contribute to such an important initiative. What a great example of collaboration among all levels of government, community and private partners. Today is a wonderful day for our community.” 

The Kingston Veterans’ Village is a unique tiny home village that offers a solution to the homeless crisis facing our Canadian military veterans. Howard explained that each home within the village had been named after a member of the Canadian Armed Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country. Honour plaques are placed outside each home, “serving as a permanent tribute to our fallen and offering a unique means to educate our youth about the sacrifices made by so many of our Canadian heroes.” Many families of those fallen men and women were on hand for the opening.

Retired General Walter Natynczyk, a member of the Homes For Heroes National Advisory Board, noted, “When our soldiers, sailors, and air personnel serve to protect Canada, they often wonder whether anyone back home cares about them or appreciates their service and their sacrifices. This Home for Heroes project is a clear message to our veterans that Canada cares and will support them in their times of need. On their path to well-being, our veterans will have a safe, clean and respectful home.”