Montreal

Old Brewery Mission gets $900K from federal government to provide housing for homeless veterans

Sentinels of the Street helps veterans find, rent and furnish a home and provides them with grocery money. A mission counsellor will also check in to ensure that the veteran is on track to once again live a normal life.

Veterans Affairs to provide 5 years' funding to Sentinels of the Street program, launched in 2017

Eric Maldoff, who chairs the board of the Old Brewery Mission, says the program to help homeless veterans works because of the dedication of mission staff and the involvement of former military personnel. (CBC)

Montreal's Old Brewery Mission is receiving almost $900,000 in federal funding to expand a program that provides housing to veterans who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.

Veteran Affairs Canada is providing the funding through its Family Well-Being Fund.

"We've been leading with this kind of initiative," the chair of the Old Brewery Mission's board, Eric Maldoff, said at Monday's funding announcement.

"Hopefully there will be more services like this across the country."

Maldoff said the mission serves as many as 50 veterans a year, and in particular, its Sentinels of the Street program has succeeded due to the commitment of the mission's staff and the input of former military personnel.

The program helps veterans find, rent and furnish a home and provides them with grocery money. A mission counsellor also checks in to ensure that the veteran is on track to once again live a normal life.

The program started as a pilot project in 2017 with federal funding. The following year, Veterans Affairs Canada provided $192,000 so it could operate for two years. 

Veterans Affairs Canada is now providing $890,000 toward the program over the next five years.

The Old Brewery Mission launched its Sentinels of the Street program, aimed at homeless military veterans, in 2017. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Maldoff said that commitment from Veterans Affairs shows the ministry recognizes the difficulty some former soldiers have reintegrating into civilian life.

A 2015 study by Employment and Social Development Canada counted 2,250 homeless veterans across the country.

"With a little bit of help [these veterans] can have such a better life," said Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay at the funding announcement.

"It's what Canadians want."

Daniel Lalonger was one of the first veterans helped by the Sentinels of the Street program.

He joined the army as a young man for the "community," he said.

He left after about 18 months and then moved around and spent some time in jail.

About 25 years later, he was living in a rooming house downtown. When it closed, he started staying at shelters and sleeping in parks.

Lalonger now lives in a subsidized apartment but is no longer receiving assistance from the mission.

Daniel Lalonger says the Old Brewery Mission gave him the help he needed to once again have his own place to live.

He says that the program gave him what he needed to get back on his feet when he had nowhere to go, and his apartment is still furnished with the amenities he bought when he was living in a studio provided by the Old Brewery.

"When [veterans] go outside of the army, they have no help," said Lalonger, who is now 57. He said it's often those who have no support network outside of the army that have the hardest time moving forward.

"So they go to drugs, itinerance, et cetera," he said.

Once you've been on the street, Lalonger said the hardest part is staying off.

"They gave me a hand," he said. "After that, I need to do it myself — like everybody."

The Old Brewery Mission was one of 22 groups across the country which received a total of $3 million in funding from Veterans Affairs.

The ministry said 114 groups applied for funding.

Another of those initiatives is the Montreal-based Respect Forum, which helps bring together people working to support homeless veterans and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Respect Forum received $537,000 over three years, which Richard Martin, the group's national program manager, said will allow it to expand and seek out more permanent funding from the private sector.

"Our reaction [to the funding] was relief. We put in the request back in the spring, and we said to ourselves it was a big Hail Mary pass," Martin said.

With reporting by Verity Stevenson and Kate McKenna

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