British Columbia

More female veterans reporting homelessness, advocate says

VETS Canada says it has seen an increase in female veterans requesting help.

VETS Canada says it has seen a huge jump in the number of female veterans using its services

VETS Canada says it's seeing an increase in the number of female Canadian veterans who are seeking help to alleviate homelessness. (Anja Niedringhaus/Canadian Press)

The number of female veterans seeking help to alleviate homelessness has increased dramatically over the past two years, according to a charity that helps homeless veterans.

Veteran Emergency Transition Services Canada, or VETS Canada, is a non-profit organization that helps Canadian veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness by connecting them to services.

It says the number of women accessing its services jumped from six per cent in 2015 to 16 per cent in 2016.

"They just keep coming forward," said Debbie Lowther, co-founder of VETS Canada. "We're expecting that number to rise."

The group is conducting a boots-on-the-ground homeless count in several Canadian cities on March 4 — in recognition of International Women's Day, which takes place on March 8  — to identify homeless female veterans.

Recently studied

The problem of veteran homelessness has only recently been formally documented.

A March 2015 study — believed to be the first of its kind in Canada — found around 2,250 former soldiers use shelters regularly across the country.

Lowther said many veterans fall into poverty or sickness when they return to Canada after service.

"When most Canadians think of a veteran, they think of someone who is elderly — a World War II or a Korean War veteran," Lowther said.

"They don't think of someone young who is in their 30s and 40s and they certainly don't think of female veterans."

Many vets survivors of sexual assault: advocate

Lowther said many of the female veterans her group has worked with are survivors of military sexual trauma.

A 2016 Statistics Canada survey found more than a quarter of all women in the military reported sexual assault at least once during their careers.

Lowther said increasing media attention on the issue has helped women who reported sexual assault to be more comfortable coming forward and seeking help.

However, she said survivors suffering PTSD from their military sexual assault often struggle to have their condition properly recognized and to receive disability benefits.

"It's a matter of having to prove the injuries are related. It's easier to prove something service-related if you were in Afghanistan and hit by an IED," she said.

In addition, she said female veterans often have complicating factors like fleeing domestic violence or being the primary caregiver of children.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled More female veterans reporting homelessness, aid group says