Thunder Bay

Helping homeless veterans topic of Thunder Bay workshop

Stakeholders in Thunder Bay, Ont. will get some advice on Wednesday, on how to help homeless military veterans to get off the street.

Finding housing should be the first step, says researcher Cheryl Forchuk

Cheryl Forchuk is a university professor in nursing and psychiatry at Western University, and an assistant director at Lawson Health Research Institute, who has done research into homeless veterans in Canada. (Cheryl Forchuk)

Stakeholders in Thunder Bay, Ont. will get some advice on Wednesday, on how to help homeless military veterans.

Experts from London, Ont. will be in the city to lead a workshop at the Branch 5 Legion, and to share some of the lessons learned in a housing project that was designed to meet the unique needs of homeless veterans, and was piloted in four Canadian cities: London, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

The pilot project, which drew on research that included interviews with homeless veterans in Canada, proved a success, said Cheryl Forchuk, a university professor in nursing and psychiatry at Western University.

"When we did the four city demonstration project we only had one veteran return to homelessness, across all four sites," said Forchuk. 

"So having a Canadian-based solution that has been tested, I think is really important for people to know about."

Housing-first model

The pilot projects adopted a housing-first approach, said Forchuk, meaning that housing is found before other issues, such as addiction, are tackled. 

"Because you cannot get on with other aspects of your life when you are still living on the street," she said. 

Her research revealed that homeless veterans in Canada, unlike those in the U.S., often looked back at military service as a positive period in their lives, said Forchuk, and tapping into that sense of purpose was also key.

"We very much link them into their sense of pride and history of being in the military," she said. 

Forchuk said it's important for veterans services, which understand military experiences, and social agencies to work together to develop local strategies.

In 2016, a count conducted in Thunder Bay found that 13 veterans are homeless in the city. 

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