Job title: Executive Director, Accessible Housing Society
Why he’s a 2014 Top 40:
Leading the Accessible Housing Society, Jeff Dyer works to find homes and bring community to homeless people with mobility issues.
To Jeff Dyer, life is a lot like a marathon.
“Running a marathon is about making a thousand small, disciplined steps toward a bigger goal,” he says. “It’s the same in life and
in work: if you want something greater than yourself, or you want your organization to be truly great, it’s a thousand small decisions.”
Dyer has run marathons all over the continent, but his main goal in life is to serve vulnerable people living on the margins and to help end homelessness in Calgary – a huge feat in a city with a one per cent vacancy rate.
After taking the executive director position at the Accessible Housing Society (AHS), he’s been making all the small steps he can to reach that goal.
AHS finds affordable, barrier-free accommodation for people who can’t find a home because of a physical disability. In addition, AHS offers its clients personal support to help them maintain their independence.
Dyer’s desire to make a difference in the lives of people who were homeless started when he was eight years old. While leaving West Edmonton Mall with his parents on a freezing January evening, he saw a dishevelled man, about 60 years old, trying to warm himself just inside the atrium doors.
“I caught his eye as we were leaving,” he recalls. “And there was something about that moment that was inherently wrong – it was wrong that someone could be so alone and so forgotten.”
Twenty years later, Dyer became a board member for the Mustard Seed, and, after serving there for three years, he took the reins at AHS in the spring of 2013. The people AHS helps are often in wheelchairs, either due to illness or injury. In Calgary, 17 per cent of people describe themselves as having mobility issues, but only three per cent of affordable housing in the city is accessible for wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
“There is an affordable-housing crisis in this city,” says Dyer. “So we exist to advocate for the people who need it, to support them, to widen doors, to make sure that everyone has a place to call home.”
Under Dyer’s leadership, AHS has flourished. In 2013, AHS helped 28 people move out of hospitals, shelters or off the streets and into homes, and this year that increased to 50. Revenues grew 25 per cent this year, giving the organization the ability to serve 292 people in need.
Between running marathons and running AHS, Dyer still finds the time to help Calgarians physically move in to their new homes and unpack. Experiences like these keep bringing him back to his goal.
“Watching somebody take ownership of their home, being able to put a book on their bookshelf for the first time, lay their head on their own pillow for the first time in years – that’s beautiful. That’s how I know I’m making a difference.” –Jennifer Friesen