Veteran James finds peace in housing

After years on the streets and in shelters, military veteran James found a stable home that is helping him to lead a healthier life.

As a proud cadet many decades ago, James was determined to serve his country. But he was one year shy of the minimum age to enlist. Like many young men of that era, he found a way to fudge the details and, at 15, became a private in the Canadian Armed Forces.

But the stress of military service was too much for the young boy. James’ drinking spiraled out of control and, after serving for four years, he was medically discharged. “It was stupid,” he says, his voice thick with regret.

James’ attempts at working were constantly undermined by his addiction. He was unable to hold down a job and, when his parents passed away, he had nowhere to go. He turned to the streets.

For over 15 years, he called a mat in a shelter home. He spent his days collecting bottles, counting his change and hoping it would be enough to buy a drink. “I got so into it, I couldn’t see any other way to do things,” he confesses. “It was just natural to me.”

James grew tired of fighting for a spot in shelter lineups and being controlled by the desperate need for alcohol. “I was sick of getting nowhere,” he says. He was convinced he would never be able to quell his addiction.

Two years ago, James found a home at a 15-unit apartment building for male veterans experiencing homelessness. It is owned by the Calgary Homeless Foundation and operated by Calgary Alpha House Society, which also provides 24/7 support services to tenants. Staff will accompany them to appointments, organize social activities, and help with cooking, cleaning and anything else they may need.

And the staff’s door is always open. “They talk to us and help us with our problems,” James says.

He admits that moving into an apartment was a substantial adjustment. “But I’m doing a lot better. I’m finally getting my thoughts back in order.”

He now takes his medications regularly – “without alcohol,” he adds proudly. He keeps a journal and writes stories around his experiences. His home is clean and orderly, dotted here and there with personal trinkets and memorabilia. “Living here helps me stay away from situations I shouldn’t be in,” he says. “I’ve been able to move away from the street mentality.”

James is thankful for his home. “If it wasn’t for my home, I would be in a psychiatric ward, or dead,” he says. “I never want to lose my home; I don’t ever want to go back to the shelters and the mats. It’s peaceful here.”

I never want to lose my home; I don’t ever want to go back to the shelters and the mats. It’s peaceful here.