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Providing A Home For Injured Veterans

Two veterans’ housing organizations in Vancouver have collaborated to provide free accommodation to wounded veterans in need of temporary housing while receiving medical care or rehabilitation. Winch House, a renovated townhouse owned by the New Chelsea Society and run by the Honour House Society, opened in November.

“I call it the miracle on 52nd Street,” says Jim Stanton, a board member of Honour House Society. Although the house was renovated and is owned by the New Chelsea Society, one of the first affordable housing societies organized by The Royal Canadian Legion in the 1950s, it will be run by the Honour House Society. The New Chelsea Society has 750 residences located in 10 properties in Vancouver and Burnaby (Housing Society Expands Its Horizons, September/October). Winch House is also available to emergency responders requring medical care.

Honour House Society is currently in the midst of a $3 million project to provide a dozen furnished suites for the same purpose in Vancouver, notorious for its high rents. The society thought it would need to wait until November 2010 when its own building is expected to be completed, but the New Chelsea Society allowed them to begin on a small scale a full year earlier than expected.

“Our assistant administrator Lee Miller thought renovating a three-bedroom townhouse in Chelsea Gardens would be an interim solution until Honour House gets built,” says Patrick Buchannon, general manager of New Chelsea Society.

The society was also looking for a lasting tribute to Don Winch, a former president and dedicated board member for 25 years.

“We were thrilled beyond belief” to be called by the New Chelsea Society with the offer of a townhouse to get the Honour House Society dream rolling, said Stanton. That dream began with the housing needs of Captain Trevor Greene, seriously wounded in an axe attack in Afghanistan in 2006.

Greene’s parents had come from the Maritimes to Vancouver to support their son while he was under treatment, and had been put up in military personnel married quarters. When another soldier was hurt, the quarters were needed, and Greene’s parents had to find somewhere else to stay. “I thought it is absolutely unacceptable that these people from across the country are now going to have to couch surf with friends or stay in a hotel,” said Stanton, a retired major who’s also president of the Royal United Services Institute of Vancouver.

The Institute sponsored a benefit concert to raise awareness about the need for temporary accommodation for wounded soldiers and their families. The Honour House Society was formed to meet that need.

Greene, 44, and his fiancée Debbie Lepore were the first to use Winch House, which was renovated, decorated and furnished in just 45 days at a cost of between $50,000 and $60,000. By knocking out a wall between the townhouse and an abandoned daycare next door, a fourth wheelchair accessible bedroom was added.

The layout of the townhouse is very flexible, says Stanton. With four bedrooms and three bathrooms, there’s enough room to house a family, or for several unrelated people to share the space. Once Honour House is up and running, the plan is for Winch House to be used for longer-term stays, he said.

The New Chelsea Society will retain ownership of the unit, and Honour House Society will continue to operate it. Honour House Society is very appreciative of Legion support, including a fundraising gala planned for April in support of Honour House and the Legion’s Veterans Transition Program, which helps veterans requiring professional help to return to normal life. Transition program participants will also be able to take advantage of the hospitality of Winch House. “It’s a wonderful marriage,” said Stanton.

B.C. Creates Fund For Legion Housing

The government of British Columbia has established a $600,000 fund to help fill the funding gap for Royal Canadian Legion housing projects—and providing an example other provinces could follow.

“We’re hoping it will be a pilot project for the country,” said British Columbia/Yukon Command President Dave Sinclair. “Other provinces have the same problem with seniors as we do, getting the infrastructure in place to house them comfortably.”

But securing financing quickly has been a stumbling block for Legion branches across the country. “Legion branches are generally asset rich and dollar poor,” says David MacDonald, consultant with the Legion Housing Centre for Excellence, a joint initiative of Dominion Command and Veterans Affairs Canada.

Lenders typically require 15 to 20 per cent in equity to qualify for project financing, and there have been instances where a project worth several million dollars has been put on hold for as much as a year for lack of $100,000 or so. And meanwhile, “the longer the delay, the more costs climb,” said Sinclair.

The provincial fund will allow Legion projects access to financing for development planning and construction. Once the project is complete, the funds will be paid back into the fund, with interest, and be available for use by other Legion projects. “This will allow Legion branches to continuously create housing for low-income seniors and veterans across B.C.—now and into the future,” said B.C. Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman.

“The interest will go right back into the fund,” said MacDonald, “so we hope over the next 10 years the fund will increase in size and more projects can be looked after.” B.C./Yukon branches have provided more than 4,000 affordable housing units for veterans and seniors in communities throughout the province.


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