A network of supporters across the country is making it their mission to ensure Canada’s veterans no longer find themselves sleeping on park benches or in city alleyways.
Support agencies such as Ontario’s Villaview Community Corporation, Soldiers Helping Soldiers, the Homes for Heroes Foundation, Veterans’ House Canada, the Royal Canadian Legion and Ottawa’s Multifaith Housing Initiative are working with multiple levels of government to find beds and create a supportive environment for former members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Notable projects creating new veterans housing over the past two years are Legion Villa in Blenheim, Ont., the Andy Carswell Building in Ottawa and Edmonton Veterans’ Village.
Federal funding through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund (NHCF) and other programs has been supplemented by provincial and municipal government sources and non-profits but the next step veterans housing advocates are targeting is a dedicated veterans stream.
“There’s been a lot of progress in the last few years. The National Housing Strategy actually recognized veterans as a vulnerable population before then,” said Alan Mulawyshyn, deputy executive director of Veterans House Canada in Ottawa and prior to getting that job a 40-year member of the armed forces.
“When you look at the scope and scale, there’s between 3,000 and 5,000 homeless veterans out there. I really think we need to be ramping up these efforts.”
While there has been significant direct funding recently through the NHCF, much of the housing funding received has been wraparound, for supports of veterans, Mulawyshyn said. He said advocates are looking to the next round of funding from the federal Rapid Housing Initiative as a possible source of a direct stream of funding so that supporters are not competing through the broader funding “ecosystem,” he said.
A 2019 report filed by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs titled Moving Towards Ending Homelessness Among Veterans found the profile of veterans who are homeless in Canada is extremely diverse. It called for a solution that allows them to be cared for individually in their communities, and that involves housing stability.
Veterans, defined as former members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP by Veterans Affairs Canada, are twice as likely to experience homelessness as other members of the general population.
Leaving the military means leaving behind a regulated environment, Mulawyshyn explained, where decisions are made for them. Many are not ready to return to society to live independently and emerge isolated from friends and family. Mental health and addiction challenges often result.
“We moved 15 times with my kids,” said Mulawyshyn. “It just all adds up, with long periods of training deployments, it just keeps adding another layer.”
They often deal with PTSD and sometimes deaths of their colleagues during training sessions even if they did not deploy overseas.
Three years ago Veterans Affairs Canada launched a transitions program but it is still ramping up, Mulawyshyn said.
Programs such as Soldiers Helping Soldiers also help veterans make the connection to social services, including new housing such as Legion Villa in Blenheim, which received NHCF funding in August to build 13 units for veterans. The local community developer is the Villaview Community Corporation.
Edmonton Veterans’ Village was developed by the Homes for Heroes Foundation with federal funding through the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund. The residences, consisting of 20 “tiny home” units, opened in 2021.
Veterans’ House: The Andy Carswell Building, located at 745 Mikinak Rd. in Ottawa, was developed by the Multifaith Housing Initiative. Funding was received from the Canada-Ontario Community Housing Initiative, supplementing a previous allocation from the NFCF.
Operations for the 40-unit residence is now in the hands of Veterans’ House Canada.
“We have veterans come in, it gives them stability,” said Mulawyshyn. “Get that address, there’s nothing stolen every night. We have a full-time social worker on site who works with them.”
Every time a veteran turns the corner at the Carswell residence, it brings satisfaction to Mulawyshyn.
“We’ve seen people reconnected with their families. We’ve seen people receive the treatments. We just had two of our tenants leave last week because they got substantial treatment programs through Veterans Affairs Canada, which they wouldn’t be able to do if they were on the street.”
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