Homeless veterans face Remembrance Day on the street

When people gather for Remembrance Day ceremonies across Toronto on Friday, they will reflect on the men and women who risked their lives for their country, but for some veterans, life after that service has meant a new kind of struggle.

Downtown club provides break from the streets for homeless Toronto vets

Bruno Scorsone, former executive director of the Good Neighbours Club in Toronto, wants more resources from Veterans Affairs Canada to keep former soldiers out of poverty. (CBC News)

When people gather for Remembrance Day ceremonies across Toronto on Friday, they will reflect on the sacrifice of the men and women who have risked their lives in the service of their country.

But for some Canadian Armed Forces veterans, life after that service has meant a new kind of struggle.

Veterans Affairs Canada estimates that there are more than 100 homeless veterans on the streets of the GTA.

Many of those veterans find their way to the Good Neighbours Club, a drop-in centre for men over 50, at the corner of Jarvis and Shuter streets.

​"There's no brothers-in-arms out here," says one club member, describing life on the streets once a military career has come to an end. "It seems everyone forgets who you are. They just don't care," he said.

"You try to become civilized, and everybody seems to not give you a fair shake."

The veteran, who did not want CBC Toronto to use his name, served seven years in the army, emerging in 1993 as a corporal with few skills that were of use in the civilian job market.

After  descending into a world of alcoholism, drug abuse and homelessness, he is now rebuilding his life with the help of staff and volunteers at the Good Neighbours Club, which was established in 1933 to help First World War veterans struggling through the Depression.

For more than 80 years, the downtown Good Neighbours Club has served Toronto's homeless vets and other older men who've fallen on hard times. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Now, the number of old soldiers at the club has started to dwindle, says former executive director Bruno Scorsone, as veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War die. But he says the club is bracing for a new wave of homeless veterans who've served in more recent conflicts, like Bosnia and Afghanistan.

The pressures of trying to find a job in a tight market, coupled with sometimes traumatic military experiences and a seemingly uncaring public can have devastating consequences, like depression and other mental illnesses, Scorsone says.

A meal and encouragement

The club provides a refuge from the streets, offering the men a meal for a dollar, showers, washers and dryers, counselling if they wish, job training, help finding housing,  companionship and encouragement.

But what Scorsone would really like to be able to offer them, he says, is a society that is more willing to offer the struggling vets a helping hand.

"Our society is so pacifistic, they don't appreciate what the military does for them, so they tend to not recognize their value," he says. "From having pride in their uniform, they have to contend with a society that doesn't want soldiers around."

And he says Veterans Affairs Canada does not have the resources to care for everyone who needs help.

"That has a depressing effect on anyone. They feel discarded and devalued."

CBC News