The federal government’s first attempt at estimating the number of homeless veterans may just be a description of the tip of an iceberg, say some veterans’ advocates.
In March 2015, Employment and Social Development Canada, which tapped into a database with information from 60 emergency shelters, found there were 2,250 veterans, making up about 2.7 per cent of the homeless population. This information was reported months later by the Canadian Press, following an access-to-information request.
But the report covered only a fraction of Canada’s 1,000 shelters, counted only those veterans who had identified themselves, and did not count the number of homeless veterans who don’t use shelters, but live on the streets, in their cars, in tents in the bush or who are couch surfing.
“I’d estimate there is a minimum of 7,000 to 8,000 homeless veterans,” said former British Columbia/Yukon Command president Angus Stanfield, a founding director of Cockrell House in Victoria, which has been serving homeless veterans since 2009. Jim Lowther of Veterans Emergency Transition Services Canada (VETS Canada), which has served 800 veterans, many of whom never used a homeless shelter, has been quoted as saying the number could be 15,000 to 20,000.
Nearly 1,000 homeless
or near homeless veterans
have been helped by
The Royal Canadian Legion.
During the Homeless Veterans Forum hosted at Legion House two years ago, experts said veterans are overrepresented among the homeless—making up only two per cent of the population, but seven per cent of a 2013 Toronto homeless survey, and 4.3 per cent of a four-year, five-city study sponsored by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (“Homeless Veterans Forum starts national approach,” July/August 2014).
Research indicates that veterans become homeless years after leaving the service, so the biggest wave of homeless Afghanistan veterans is likely yet to come.
Over the past decade, veterans organizations have developed nationwide programs to respond to homeless veterans’ needs. VETS Canada now has representatives across the country seeking out homeless or near homeless veterans and getting them the help they need.
In January, Dominion President Tom Eagles released a letter to the editor saying nearly 1,000 homeless or near homeless veterans have been helped by The Royal Canadian Legion. The Legion’s national program provides immediate financial assistance and support “when and where needed,” using poppy funds or various benevolent funds. It also connects veterans with social and community services to establish a long-term solution.
To help a homeless veteran, contact:
• The Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Command Service Bureau at email@example.com, or 1-877-534-4666.
• VETS Canada (Veterans Emergency Transition Services) at vetscanada.org/get-help.php, or 1-888-228-3871.
• Veterans Affairs Canada Emergency Funds at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 1-866-522-2122 or a VAC area office, listed at www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/contact/map.