For what’s believed to be the first time, the federal government has estimated how many of Canada’s homeless are former soldiers — but the department that compiled the report warns the data is far from complete.
The March 2015 study by Employment and Social Development Canada estimates that 2,250 former soldiers use shelters on regular basis, about 2.7 per cent of the total homeless population that uses temporary lodging.
The information in the report, released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, comes from a database that tracks 60 emergency shelters across the country and added veterans as an identifiable category in 2014.
“It’s shocking in Canada that we would have any veteran who is homeless, but it is a sad reality,” said Gen. Jonathan Vance, the country’s top military commander.
Vance said going forward the military will work with veterans affairs to make sure they are taking care of ex-soldiers after they hang up the uniform.
Canadian Veterans Advocacy Group president Mike Blaise said the transition from soldier to civilian is hard for some to make.
“They are kind of a drift. They don’t know what to do. When you add a mental ruin to that, it results in isolation the cycle of despair.”
Blaise said the solutions include a better relationship with the federal government.
“We can’t just say we got them off the streets, ‘Hallelujah’. No, we have to provide the subsequent care and treatment to bring these guys back to where they were before they joined the forces.”
Blaise said the public can also do its part by talking to vets they see on the streets, and reporting them to veterans affairs.
“When you see a veteran on the street it doesn’t take too much to maybe give him a buck and a half for coffee first.”
Blaise said he successfully adapted and his message to other ex-soldiers: “You can adapt too.”
– With files from the Canadian Press and CKOM’s Lasia Kretzel