Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/1/2016 (1945 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Unlike other countries, Canada has not done a comprehensive study of the problem of homelessness among Canadian Forces veterans. But the homeless former soldiers are out there, in and out of shelters more often than others who have no where to live.
There are more than 2,250 former soldiers who have been counted among Canada's homeless. But that's a rough estimate and falls short of the real numbers -- the report last March for the federal Employment and Social Development department noted this is only counting those using shelters. It does not account for veterans couch-surfing or finding other places to spend the night.
And many are women. A CBC report said the survey found 16 per cent of female ex-soldiers were without an address often, a rate far exceeding the general female homeless population.
This report, compiled as part of the former Harper government's national strategy on homelessness, begins to scratch at the issue. Canada's new veterans affairs minister, Kent Hehr, called the finding shameful, but stopped short of committing to hard action. Mr. Hehr said, however, the department -- which does not offer social housing as a policy -- is studying the country's only veterans shelter, in Victoria, as a model.
No Canadian wants to see veterans shelters popping up across the country. It would be tacit admission Canada sees homelessness as a fact of life for some ex-soldiers. And, as with expansions to emergency rooms and food banks, the demand may never halt.
Eradicating homelessness among veterans is unlikely; there are so many reasons why people fall into such desperation. Soldiers, however, are vulnerable because their lifestyles (regimented) and hazards (PTSD) set them up for difficulty in civilian life. Homeless vets report higher rates of alcoholism and mental-health issues, many say abusive behaviours began in the military.
The Canadian Armed Forces has 5,000 personnel leaving each year (one-quarter for medical reasons) and reported 30 per cent of ex-soldiers have "persistent psychological difficulty" resulting from service. Between 2002 and 2014, the number of vets in service programs who have mental-health conditions rose to almost 12 per cent from two per cent.
Further, not all homeless vets are on the streets because of their military experience. A U.K. study found 25 per cent had difficulties began prior to service and one-third slid into homelessness later in life due to events that transpired after service.
Canada can't say much about what led to life on the streets for its ex-soldiers, due to large gaps in research. But Mr. Hehr recognized there is a special duty owed to Canada's vets, who served the country honorably.
The duty starts not with homelessness, though. It begins in service, detecting stressors that cripple soldiers and the unhealthy coping mechanisms that can defeat them. The responsibility continues -- it should be, as one academic researcher noted, a social covenant not a contract -- well after they leave the service.
A University of Western Ontario study recommended the government's obligation to monitor a veteran's health should be three years post-service, not six months. Such a move would allow vets more time to access health and benefit programs. It would make the department more attuned to the barriers to resettlement as well.
Mr. Hehr acknowledged there's a lot to be done. Just how much, however, won't be known without better research.
That includes finding all the former soldiers who came home, and eventually found themselves without an address.