ANAVETS Shoulder to Shoulder

May 2019

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A new program at the Old Brewery Mission in Montreal, PQ is getting homeless veterans back on their feet – providing housing and healthcare services to those who served. The first 16 participants, including Mario Gagne, have just wrapped up their first year. Gagne says he had reached rock bottom at the end of his service. After three years in the army, he had no home and nowhere to go. A chance encounter with another homeless veteran led him to the Old Brewery Mission and the Sentinels of the Street program, implemented one year ago with support from the Fondation québécoise des Vétérans, VETS Canada and the federal government. "These are typically people who have left the Armed Forces maybe a decade ago, and they've been on a trajectory downwards ever since," said Matthew Pearce, director of the Old Brewery Mission. Sentinels of the Street helps find suitable housing and psychosocial support services tailored to each veteran's needs. The mission works with Veterans Emergency Transition Services (VETS) Canada, a Halifax-based group specializing in helping at-risk veterans, trying to break down feelings of shame and solitude. "Veterans want to talk to someone who understands them," says Debbie Lowther, VETS co-founder. "When they're talking to organizations that are veteran-specific, I think they feel more comfortable opening up." A national survey by Veterans Affairs Canada estimates there are 2,500 homeless veterans living across the country – about six percent of the total homeless population in Montreal. "They have a heck of a time adjusting to civilian life from the framed and controlled military life they've become accustomed to," Pearce said. All 16 participants now have a place to call home. Gagne lives in Trois Rivieres and, at 54, hopes to go to university one day. He's even started painting again – one of his passions. "Hope, there's still hope – even though I was in that situation, they helped me out and they supported me," Gagne said. After more than one year since the program, which provides affordable, permanent housing for ex-soldiers in need, was launched, 16 homeless veterans have reintegrated into the community after years of living on the street and on the margins of society. Gagné says the program provides hope and credits the Mission with saving his life. "The workers here are very flexible, understanding and compassionate. They determine what each person needs and they do their best to help," he says. In 2018, the program welcomed close to 3,000 homeless men and women including 45 claiming to be veterans. The Extent and Nature of Veteran Homelessness in Canada report used data collected at 60 emergency shelters across Canada during 2014 and is the first study to look at Veteran homelessness nationally. The study concluded that homelessness among veterans is a signifi- cant problem. Findings based on a group of 78 veterans who have ex- perienced homelessness in London, Toronto, Victoria and Calgary showed the following: • Veterans using shelters are overwhelmingly male (92.1%). • The average age of veterans experiencing homelessness is 52.8 years - much older than the average age of adult shelter users which is 37. • A long gap between leaving the military and becoming homeless was noted - on average, participants had been homeless for about eight years, and had been out of the military for an average of 28.4 years. • Alcoholism, drug addictions and mental health issues were cited as major factors contributing to their homelessness. 6 SHOULDER TO SHOULDER MORE THAN A YEAR OF HOUSING HOMELESS VETERANS By Robin MacLennan

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