Charity proposes veterans' home at former CFB Rockcliffe

An Ottawa charity is proposing to build a home for more than 40 military veterans struggling with homelessness at the former Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe, east of Ottawa's downtown.

Home would provide 40 permanent, supportive housing units for veterans

Suzanne Le is the executive director of Multifaith Housing Initiative, which is applying to build supportive housing exclusively for military veterans on the former Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

An Ottawa charity is proposing to build a home for more than 40 military veterans struggling with homelessness at the former Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe, east of Ottawa's downtown.

Multifaith Housing Initiative will submit an application next week to the City of Ottawa to build a housing community for veterans at the former airbase.

They have issues transitioning from a military culture and lifestyle to a civilian culture and lifestyle.- Suzanne Le, Multifaith Housing Initiative

The project, called Veterans' House, would help reduce the number of former military members who are struggling with mental health, addiction issues and homelessness, the charity said. 

"It's a need that became apparent to us early on.... I saw a real need that wasn't being answered," said Suzanne Le, the charity's executive director. 

The proposed centre would provide 40 housing units in a building equipped with communal areas and treatment rooms. The centre would not be a shelter but a permanent home, allowing veterans to stay as long as they choose, Le said.

Hundreds of homeless vets

A survey conducted by the Alliance to End Homelessness found 8.5 per cent of the city's homeless population reported they had military experience. It found a total of 6,500 people stayed in Ottawa shelters in 2014, Le said.

Soldiers Helping Soldiers, an Ottawa-based organization serving military members, says it encountered over 375 veterans staying in shelters over the last three years, Le said.

"The research indicates that it has a lot to do with the transition," Le said. "They have issues transitioning from a military culture and lifestyle to a civilian culture and lifestyle."

Le said the project is also an opportunity to commemorate the military history of the airbase by providing a safe and affordable space for veterans. 

Royal Canadian Air Force veteran Bill Beaton supports the Veterans' House project, but wishes there were more housing for veterans who don't necessarily need the onsite mental health and addictions supports. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Transition to civilian life

Veteran Bill Beaton said he never dealt with mental health or addiction issues, but became homeless after he struggled to apply his experiences working with weapons and explosives in the civilian world.  

He said the shelter system, which appeared scary at first, he said, gave some comfort because it had the same familiar structure and support as the military, which he left in 1986.  

"[It] took me almost a year to get out of the shelter. It's not an easy thing to do once you're in there," he said. "You start building friendships, you start learning routine. It becomes like a military thing," Beaton told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"You've got a meal waiting for you. You know you've got a bed." 

Beaton recently moved into a new home, but said the rent amounts to about 90 per cent of his monthly income. While he pays around $700 a month, residents at the proposed residence at CFB Rockcliffe will pay $479. 

The proposed housing project will offer onsite addiction counselling, mental health support, case work support with Veterans Affairs Canada, peer mentoring from other military members and PTSD service dog support. 

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning