London, Ont., announced on Feb. 16 that it has functionally eradicated veteran homelessness within its boundaries.
The municipality partnered with Built for Zero Canada (BFZ-C), a national effort by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness to address the problem in London. BFZ-C monitors the progress of 12 participating cities. It has endorsed London’s claim that the city is the first Canadian community to attain “functional zero veteran homelessness” status.
The term means the number of veterans experiencing homelessness is less than, or equal to, the number of veterans a community has proven it can house in a month.
In July 2020, the city completed a “by-name list” of every known homeless veteran in the community. Using the list of 20 names and through relationships with organizations serving veterans, the city’s homeless prevention and housing team reduced the number of known veterans experiencing homelessness by 75 per cent in August and September.
“The community now aims to sustain those gains.”
“It is the direct result of a compassionate community coming together to achieve something truly remarkable,” said Mayor Ed Holder.
The city worked to house and support many of those on the list by collaborating with social service agencies and veterans’ organizations, analyzing real-time data and co-ordinating access.
“Achieving a functional end to veteran homelessness means that the community now aims to sustain those gains while working toward absolute zero,” said Marie Morrison of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.
Reducing veteran homelessness to absolute zero is difficult. And the problem isn’t going away across the country.
Most homeless veterans are adult males and tend to be older than homeless non-veterans. They use shelters at a lower rate than non-veterans; many avoid public recognition or acknowledgment and they tend to be less likely to seek handouts, according to a report by Employment and Social Development Canada. These homeless vets don’t want to be found; they keep off the beaten track.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs reported to Parliament in 2019 that homelessness likely affects 3,000 to 5,000 of the nearly 650,000 veterans living in Canada.
It added that Veterans Affairs Canada relies on the efforts of community organizations, “which are the only stakeholders that can restore trust between veterans who are homeless and the public institutions capable of mobilizing the resources needed to help them reintegrate.”
In 2020, The Royal Canadian Legion published a five-year action plan to end veteran homelessness.
The strategy aims to work closely with governments to employ research and evidence-based best practices and expand the existing body of knowledge on veteran homelessness.
“One thing is certain,” the action plan states, “it is unacceptable for any veteran to face homelessness in Canada.”
The BFZ-C effort monitors chronic and veteran homelessness via an online “dashboard” that shows statistics reported by participating communities, including “veteran move-ins”—a count of those who have been housed in permanent and/or long-term housing.
Since the campaign started in March 2019, according to the dashboard, 35 veteran move-ins have taken place in the 12 participating cities. Twenty-nine of them have been in London.