Homeless veterans need transition centres: Stoffer

The NDP's veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer renewed a call Friday for federal funding to establish facilities to house and treat homeless veterans across Canada.

The NDP's veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer renewed a call Friday for federal funding to establish facilities to house and treat homeless veterans across Canada.

A non-profit volunteer group working in Halifax has been finding and helping homeless veterans since February.

Stoffer held a news conference at the Salvation Army's Centre of Hope in downtown Halifax Friday where volunteers have found at least two former vets who now find themselves without a home.

Since the volunteer organization started looking for homeless veterans in February, they've located about 10 in Halifax alone.

Stoffer wants the federal government to fund so-called centres of excellence for both former military vets and members of the RCMP that would provide them with an address and psychiatric and nursing care.

"So what we're asking for, once again, is for the federal government to immediately start purchasing facilities across this country that are run by the federal government," Stoffer said.

 "No more downloading these heroes onto the backs of the provinces and the municipalities. It is a federal responsibility. These individuals served their country and their country must serve them."

Stoffer wouldn't speculate on how much money it would take to establish such a centre in each province.

'Fell through the cracks'

Jim Lowther, with Veterans Emergency Transition Services, also known as V.E.T.S., suggested the centres could be mainly staffed by veterans who volunteer their time.

Rob Dobson, 33, is one of the veterans who fell through the cracks.

He was discharged from the military in 2001 after serving in Kosovo and being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  He turned to drugs and alcohol and lived on the streets off and on for 10 years.

"I got caught between the provincial government and the federal government and nobody would put out money because, 'Oh well, he's being covered by the province' or 'He's being covered by the federal government' and I just survived.  So, I got lost," Dobson said.

He said Lowther helped get him the help he wanted, but didn't know how to ask for.  

Another of the group's success stories is Joe Arsenault. Lowther said that he reached out to him at his makeshift camp underneath the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge.

"He [Arsenault] got cleaned up and now he's working with his brother in Ontario," Lowther said. "It makes you feel really good that we're actually doing something."

A Dartmouth psychologist who works with veterans said that part of what's leading to vets with mental illness being on the streets is that they're leaving a highly structured environment for treatment on an outpatient basis.

"So any environment that could provide a structured, 24-7 military sensitive environment and programming could be a great benefit in terms of my work," Dr. John Whelan said.

Stoffer said it's been more than two years since Col. Pat Stogran, a former veterans ombudsman, identified homelessness among veterans as a serious concern.

The Veterans Affairs Department has committed to addressing the problem, he said, but veterans and their loved ones are still waiting for action.