A large wooden house on Sooke Road presents itself with a tidy lawn and a Canadian flag. While the outside looks picturesque, it’s the opportunity inside that changes lives.
Cockrell House sits at 2303 Sooke Rd., and for more than 10 years has acted as a home for under-housed and homeless veterans.
Over the past decade more than 100 people have moved through the house before getting back on their feet.
When the project started, said Cockrell House Chairman Angus Stanfield, the topic of homeless veterans was never spoken of.
“I was back east for a veterans’ meeting and someone asked ‘what are we doing for homeless veterans?’” Stanfield recalled.
“Everybody stopped and thought… we had never thought about it before, we weren’t doing anything.”
So, Stanfield and two other advocates sought assistance from a local developers, starting with a two-bedroom unit and expanding to include the nine units at Cockrell House property, as well as two off-site units.
“Once we started, we realized this is a bigger problem than anyone thinks,” Stanfield said. He added that at the time a member of the House of Commons stood up and said there were about 15 homeless veterans in the country. “We’d only just started and already identified 32 on Southern Vancouver Island.”
The problem in trying to identify the homeless veteran population is that veterans don’t typically stay in homeless shelters, where counts are done.
“It’s probably their military training on survival, but you’re more likely to not find them in an urban setting at all,” Standfiled said, saying many live in the bush, in their cars or on friends’ couches.
“Somebody that’s worn a uniform is slightly different than other people.”
Stanfield estimates that as much as 10 per cent of Canada’s homeless population has served in the Canadian Armed Forces.
After establishing Cockrell House it didn’t take long for word to spread – Stanfield and staff stopped in at local Legions and asked staff to keep an eye out for veterans coming in asking for bus passes or food stamps, and to let them know about Cockrell House.
When someone moves into the house, the Esquimalt Lion’s Club provides them with a new mattress and donations from the Legion provide furniture, pots and pans, towels and everything else someone could need.
They can then take all of this with them when they move out. Residents also receive a monthly bus pass and a $100 food voucher, as well as bi-monthly visits from nurses at Verity Home Care. Veterans are also connected with an agent at Veteran’s Affairs, as well as any other counselling or healthcare needs which are required.
There is not a strict time limit to their stay, and they are not required to pay any rent whatsoever.
This doesn’t last long, Stanfield said.
Most of the time when people start to become more stabilized they volunteer to make a small monthly contribution to help offset the $10,000 per-month bill which Cockrell House costs.
“It really works, because they feel like they’re paying for something and also that they’re giving back,” Stanfield said.
The house receives no government funding, and is able to pay its dues from Legion donations and smaller private donations.
Ex-military members like rules and authority so a live-in manager, a veteran sergeant, helps keep things in order. The rules are present but simple: no indoor smoking, no overnight guests and no parties.
The house can comfortably hold eight people, though in a tight situation in can hold up to 10. The house is split into one, two and three-bedroom units with shared common space. In the rare occurrence that the veteran is a woman (in 10 years there have only been seven) she gets the single-occupancy unit.
While some might think living in close quarters could be bothersome, tenants have found companionship with other veterans, and even taken each other under their wings.
“It’s veterans helping veterans,” Stanfield said. “They miss being part of the family that they were in the military.”
For more information, visit legionbcyukon.com/legion-foundation/cockrell-house.