Homeless veterans aided by Calgary officer

A Calgary police officer has made it his mission to reach out to the city's homeless military veterans, helping them get access to the services and benefits to which they're entitled.
Const. John Langford has made connections with about 20 homeless military veterans in Calgary, but suspects there are many more out there. ((CBC))

A Calgary police officer has made it his mission to reach out to the city's homeless military veterans.

Const. John Langford noticed a large number of veterans on Calgary's streets last year when he was part of the police department's downtown mountain-bike unit.

So Langford started working with Veterans Affairs Canada to identify homeless veterans and help them get access to available services and benefits to which they're entitled.

He said he has made a connection with about 20 homeless veterans. But Langford believes the total number could be closer to 40.

"[There is] lots of information coming out of the States about homeless veterans, and that's been going on since Vietnam," said Langford. "But to start seeing them in Calgary, in your own hometown, it's kind of shocking."

Langford has been successful at developing a rapport with these veterans, in part because he's also a former soldier.

Langford spent seven years in the Canadian Forces and was posted in such places as Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia.

"The military is a very unique lifestyle. It's a very unique career," said Langford. "And when you share that experience with people, you develop a bond."

One of the veterans he's working with is Brian Decker, a former Edmontonian who spent eight years with what was then the Royal Canadian Navy.

"I was an administrative writer," said Decker, who served on frigates and destroyers during his time in the military.

Brian Decker, 64, is a veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy. Decker, who is homeless, is getting help from Const. John Langford in applying for his military pension. ((CBC))

For the past eight years, 64-year-old Decker has been on the streets. His bed is on the third floor of the Calgary Drop-In Centre.

"I've never been much of a saver. And the missus passed away [of] old age," said Decker, who has no remaining family. "I don't know. Only me."

Langford has showed Decker how to apply for his military pension. At their last meeting, Decker promised to follow up on his suggestions.

For his part, Langford said he knows he can only help so much, but that every little bit counts.

"It's just like the bumper stickers and everything say: 'Support our troops,'" he said. "If they're living on the street right now, this is the time they need it most."