The federal government says it will spend $100,000 on a pilot project to track down and help veterans living on the streets of Montreal.
Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson made the announcement Tuesday morning at the city’s Café L’Itineraire. The café provides meals to the homeless and helps reinsert them into the community.
Thompson said the program will help let homeless veterans know about the services available to them. If it is a success, he said, it could be launched elsewhere.
He said the program will help inform homeless veterans about the services available to them. If it is a success, Thompson said it could be launched in other cities.
"If there are veterans living on our streets it is our national duty to find them and more importantly to help them," Thompson said. "There will always be some that’ll fall through the cracks and those are the ones we want to be there to help and pick up and make sure they do get the support they need."
Montreal was chosen because of its large population of veterans, the minister said.
'People who have lived in the deserts and in the bush — they're not as perhaps hesitant as your average person might be to live out on the streets,' —Patrick Strogan, Veterans Affairs ombudsman
But Thompson acknowledged the government has no idea how many homeless veterans might be living in the city.
"If we knew that number I guess we wouldn't be here," said Thompson. "The truth is we're reaching out to the communities to find out what that number is and letting those people know that we do have the programs to help."
Patrick Strogan, Canada’s Veterans Affairs ombudsman, also took part in the announcement.
Strogan said he has met homeless veterans of all kinds — some served in World War II or Korea, while others served in peacekeeping missions or the current mission in Afghanistan. Some never even saw combat, Strogan said.
But the one common thread is the stress of leaving the forces and returning to civilian life, said Strogan, himself a career soldier.
"Two years ago when I left the Canadian Forces it was a real shock to my system," Strogan said. "I was consumed by being a soldier and life was a drill to me."
The difficult transition, coupled with possible lingering stresses from combat, pushes many veterans to the streets where they might feel more at home.
"People who have lived in the deserts and in the bush — they're not as perhaps hesitant as your average person might be to live out on the streets and take the hard knocks," Strogan said.
Matthew Pearce, director of the Old Brewery Mission, acknowledged that few of his clients are veterans. Nonetheless, he welcomed the program.
"I'm sure for all Canadians it is completely unacceptable that veterans who have sacrificed what they and have [and] contributed what they have, somehow find themselves in homelessness," Pearce said.
The website WoundedWarriors.ca, which helps injured soldiers regain their quality of life, has provided $5,000 toward the project.
"It is our hope that this project gets expanded coast to coast where it's needed and we'll be there," said the group’s founder Wayne Johnston.
The Canadian Auto Worker's Union has also donated a vehicle that outreach workers can use to travel to various homeless shelters looking for veterans.