Former Homeless Man Pours Energy and Resources into Developing Enterprise to Help House Homeless People
Frank Ossm is a dynamic thinker with a lot of enthusiasm. His natural charisma and engaging personality makes him a unique figure in Canada’s ever-evolving housing industry.
With the tiny home movement still very much in its infancy, the time may be now to push innovation forward. Frank knows this because Frank lives for this industry. His company, 3D Print Housing Corporation, is in the formative stages of producing Canada’s first 3D-printed tiny homes.
Frank also knows firsthand about the need for affordable housing innovation. For him and his company, it’s not just a necessity for a post-COVID-19 economy. He believes in this so emphatically because it was not long ago that Frank found himself homeless.
“After getting into hobby 3D printing in 2015, the evolution of the technology continued to fascinate me,” Frank said. “I made a habit of searching out new things people were doing with it.”
“I came across a company in Russia who had printed a small one bedroom house,” Frank recalled. “The home was a circular design, and complete with plumbing and furnishings. It took them 48 hours to create this home, from start to finish. In this technology, I saw the hope of transforming how we see housing, and how we could use it to help combat homelessness.”
As Frank walked through the inception of this concept, you could sense his intense passion for tiny homes and social betterment.
“My first approach was to make a proposal to the City of Calgary,” he said. “I was hoping to gain support for some research, and channel funding. I was rewarded with three meetings with a representative of the social economic development department. We discussed my ability to actually pull this off. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that this was not the way for me to go.”
“I needed to surround myself with highly specialized individuals and start a company to tackle the issues,” he continued. “I used the power of social media to find six people that were interested enough to invest their own money and time into an unproven technology. In the end, we ended up with four directors.”
Speaking fondly of his colleagues, Frank explained the dynamics of his enterprise.
“We have an electronic technician named Gary, a construction and materials testing specialist named Dave, a business manager named Ed, and then there is me. I am a graphic designer, who has some forward thinking ideas on how to meet the challenges we plan to face.”
Frank went on extensively about how his budding enterprise plans “to not only use 3D construction printing to make housing affordability a reality,” but to also “use it in concert with advocacy and policy developments”. He hopes this will “make it easier for thought leaders to impose change for the better.”
When switching gears away from his ambitious entrepreneurial endeavours, Frank had no qualms about delving deeper into his own backstory.
“3DPHC was conceptualized in 2015, and founded by 2017. The company is located in Calgary, Alberta. I’ve lived in Calgary myself on and off for over 25 years” he said. “I always seem to come back here.”
When explaining his own experiences with homelessness, Frank was incredibly earnest about his challenging past.
“I’ve been ‘housing compromised’ my entire life,” he declared. “My personal struggle began when I was 13 years old. I’m not sure I could even understand what it’s like to live in one place more than a year. It’s not unusual for me to move several times in one year.”
To put that in perspective, Frank is almost 50 years old now. He estimates that he has probably lived in over 100 homes.
“I think part of it is that’s the way I’ve been trained, so to speak. If I think about it hard enough I just become confused over why it continues,” he said. “I think in my case, it is more than just career or financial ability. Mental health and physical health have played their parts.”
When asked about his family ties, he explained the unique circumstances of his upbringing.
“I’ve been estranged from my entire bloodline since I was 13 years old. That’s left me with no family, and I was never actually ‘raised’. That’s a really long story,” he said. “My situation at home was traumatic, and often got worse by the minute. But I feel lucky that I recognized those dangers at an early age.”
“I’ve developed a certain hyper-vigilance from being constantly on edge, looking over my shoulder, seeing every eye twitch, and hearing every noise. That actually made me fairly street-smart,” he said. “And for me, once I was on the streets, my life actually improved.”
With that said, it is worth noting that not everything about being homeless was an improvement for Frank.
“I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2015. It mostly surfaces as waking flashbacks. On rare occasions, I experience full blown panic attacks,” he said. “This usually happens in public, so I try to stay away from large gatherings.”
“While rare, my panic attacks can be quite extreme. They can sometimes be followed by a black-out period, where I appear conscious but will lose memory of one or more days,” he continued. “It’s why freelancing agrees with me so well.”
“I’ve never formed a friendship where we hang out, like most others I see around me. Almost all of my current relationships are business related,” Frank said. “I’ve grown up in such a different world, feeling constantly misunderstood. I have only one current friend who has stuck with me. And she knows the best she can do is show support understanding. She is uncommonly non-judgemental, and open minded. I think that’s the most we can expect, and it helps a lot more than we think.”
“Society seems based on the idea that everyone has a family,” Frank explained introspectively. “Trying to operate outside that paradigm is a difficult thing to do.”
These traumatic side effects have taken a toll on Frank’s life in more ways than one.
Struggling to maintain positive relationships, he feels a certain empathy for others struggling on the fringes of our worldview.
“I generally feel very isolated from my community,” Frank said. “I see those falling through the cracks because they don’t fit predetermined expectations, and no one seems ready or able to help.
He continued, “I decided not long ago that if I was stuck feeling this way, then I would strive to be an island in the sea and try to be a beacon for society’s underserved. It’s only in the last couple of years that I realized how I would play my part, and I’m still just getting started.”
Now at a stage where his business is developing rapidly, Frank takes a moment to acknowledge how far he has come.
“I risked everything to make 3DPHC happen. I spent six months in a 10×14 foot camping trailer, with no plumbing last year because I couldn’t afford to both start the company and rent a room at the same time. Every cent is invested in this. So I’ve been trying to find a room to rent where I can trade rent for maintenance and cleaning.”
While on the cusp of a potential greatness that could change the way that affordable housing is developed and delivered across Canada, Frank has no problem explaining how his unconventional living situation is worth the sacrifices. His focus seldom deviates from the task at hand.
“Right now, I’m renting a room from one of my co-directors,” he said. “It’s only supposed to be temporary, so I know I won’t be here much longer. Unless it’s relationships or companionship, I don’t feel I’ve ever had anything worth sacrificing anyway.”
“I’ve been alone my whole life,” he said stoically.
“My superpower is my ability to survive in whatever situation I find myself in. It could be on the streets, or in a beautiful home in the suburbs. I’ll fill my space and do the best I can, while always keeping my eyes open for opportunities and focusing on the future.”
“I think my situation is far more common than most would believe,” Frank said. “It’s those like me who I feel are often most prone to falling through the cracks. We aren’t always able to chase the same opportunities others might take for granted.”
In spite of his setbacks, Frank’s enthusiasm never wanes as he sums up his mission.
“I’ve accepted my obstacles though. Now I want to use my insight, my experiences and my intuition to help people like me. I believe we can do that by making housing affordable,” Frank said. “Healing and growing both require comfort and security. That has to come first!”