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Looking Forward to Remembrance Day 2010

A refuge for soldiers recovering from post-traumatic stress syndrome is taking shape in Vancouver.

By Crawford Kilian 11 Nov 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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Interim quarters for the Honour House project: Winch House at Chelsea Gardens in Vancouver.

Every November 11 we look back at those who died in past wars. Allan De Genova is looking forward to next year's ceremonies, which he hopes will include the opening of Honour House -- a temporary home for Canadians harmed in our current war in Afghanistan.

The well-known realtor has been pushing this project since he was a Vancouver Parks Board commissioner, and he sees it becoming a reality after years of effort.

The idea, he said in an interview with The Tyee, came out of his work with Cam Cathcart on the renovation of Victory Square, when the cenotaph was restored. Then, in a "Salute to Our Troops" events held in October 2006 by the Royal United Services Institute, De Genova learned about the impact of post-traumatic stress on the lives of many returning soldiers.

"What are we doing here to help these people?" De Genova asked, and learned that the answer was: Not much. Locally, a few veterans were housed in a small home on the Department of National Defence lands at Jericho base while they underwent treatment for PTSD. But it was not accessible to veterans with disabilities, and was clearly not enough support for the growing number needing care.

Gathering up support

"I called DND," De Genova said. "I told them I didn't want a dime, just their blessing." He got it, but dealing with the Ottawa bureaucracy wasn't as positive. He called General Rick Hillier to talk about the project he was now calling Honour House. Hillier asked De Genova to drop by the next time he was in Ottawa to talk some more.

"I'll be there tomorrow," De Genova told him, and booked a ticket. Hillier was soon a backer.

De Genova now drew on his extensive connections with Vancouver developers and construction associations. He soon had about $2.5 million of in-kind pledges from them. Meanwhile the Royal Canadian Legion promised a quarter-million dollars to furnish Honour House.

When it became clear that Department of Defence lands wouldn't be suitable for Honour House, De Genova went hunting for property. He now has a tentative location at 14th and Laurel, close to hospitals and other facilities. He is working with B.C. Housing to acquire it, and hopes to start construction by mid-January. Next November 11 would be the formal opening day.

Hazard in the shadows

In the meantime, the New Chelsea Society is providing Winch House, a four-bedroom wheelchair-accessible town house that will be an auxiliary facility until Honour House is open. Winch House will then serve those needing a long term stay. As well, Vancouver hoteliers are providing free accommodation.

Honour House will serve not only Canadian Forces veterans but also first responders dealing with PTSD -- police officers, firefighters, and ambulance drivers. It is a little-recognized but growing hazard in those professions.

As described on its website, Honour House will be a facility of 10 furnished suites with a communal kitchen, library, "quiet room," a consultation room and an administrative office. Like the Ronald McDonald House concept, Honour House will enable soldiers and first responders to stay with their families while receiving treatment.

De Genova sees an Honour House in every province, keeping veterans and their families together and, hopefully, speeding their recovery. If Honour House does indeed open on Remembrance Day 2010, it will be an occasion for hope on a day of sad reflection.  [Tyee]

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