Written by: Maj (Retd) Mark MacDonald
On November 11th, this year and every year, millions of Canadians will gather to commemorate the service and sacrifice of Veterans. In Ottawa, home to one of the largest groups of veterans in the country, there will be televised services from the National War Memorial. At these events much will be made, correctly so, of those who have died in service. There exists however another population who have also freely given of themselves. These are veterans who are physically and emotionally wounded as a result of their service in the wars and peacekeeping operations of recent conflicts. These wounded warriors are often in need of extensive care and this is provided by Veterans Affairs Canada and other agencies. Other veterans, whose care needs are less or who are healthy often find themselves challenged to find housing. This can be caused by family breakdown, addictions or other factors. There is a growing number of homeless veterans in Canada. It is disturbing to consider the fact that veterans who have served Canada are now slipping into homelessness.
National level veteran support agencies are not well positioned at local levels. It is at the local level that one has to be actively involved in order to locate housing. The Royal Canadian Legion does have a local presence across Canada and makes efforts to find housing for veterans in need. At the municipal level some cities and towns have begun to organize themselves to ensure that veterans are housed, but unfortunately many cities do not ensure that veterans have a secure home. One of the most significant challenges in the area of veterans housing is that although there are statutory entitlements at the Federal level, there do not exist parallel entitlements for veterans at Provincial and Municipal levels. Although there is considerable concern expressed for homeless Veterans in many centers, there is actually nothing done to directly house them. What is being done to house homeless veterans is being done at the local level. In Ottawa local housing providers organized to build Veteran’s House. This was a project funded from multiple sources at all levels and resulted in a 40 unit residential building in Ottawa on the location of the old Rockcliffe Air Base. This building is exclusively for Canadian Veterans. The newly created Veterans House Canada organization is now attempting to create similar buildings across Canada in order to provide housing for homeless veterans. Currently the organization is working to establish Veteran Houses in Halifax, Toronto, and Edmonton. More houses are in the preliminary planning stage. There are other local initiatives underway. These include tiny homes and apartments which a city has provided to a local veteran support group.
The key concern of the veteran support community is the provision of housing to homeless veterans this coming winter. There is a serious shortage of housing in many Canadian cities. Local veterans community organizations warn that veterans will not get the housing they need in the absence of any priority to house them. This may result in veterans living in tents or similar communal housing facilities. Veterans and veteran support groups want Canadians to understand and remember the price of freedom.
Veterans are passing the torch to the people of Canada, so the memory of sacrifices made will continue and the value fought for will live on in all of us. It is felt that more support is needed by homeless veterans.
Funding sources should earmark money for veterans housing.Finally, housing approaches for veterans should be developed that respond to the unique needs that veterans experiencing homelessness face. We must prevent the shame of homeless veterans in a tent at -40c.