HALIFAX - A Nova Scotia man who helps veterans living on the street called on the federal government to fund emergency services for former military personnel, accusing Ottawa of failing the growing number of homeless vets.
Jim Lowther urged the Conservatives on Friday to support a transition facility for veterans in Halifax, where he says he has come across at least 10 homeless former members since starting his group in February.
Lowther, who retired from the military in 2005, said he knows of only one shelter in the country devoted to former Canadian Forces personnel and it's run by volunteers.
"Canadians need to know how dire the situation is and that it's only going to get worse," he said following a press conference.
"We're in desperate need."
NDP MP Peter Stoffer echoed the call for help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, claiming it has done little to help homeless vets since Col. Pat Stogran, a former veterans ombudsman, identified homelessness among veterans as a serious concern in 2008.
Stoffer said Veterans Affairs had promised to address the problem in 2009, but has not opened a single facility dedicated to helping homeless veterans.
Stoffer, the party's veterans affairs critic, said Ottawa needs to establish special centres for former RCMP officers and veterans who have distinct psychological, medical and professional retraining needs.
Instead, he said the government has "sloughed off" the responsibility of caring for vets onto charitable organizations, like the Salvation Army and other groups, that aren't suited to treat them.
"This is a federal responsibility," he said.
"I'm actually sick and tired of hearing one minister after another say all the great things we're doing. It's simply not anywhere near what they should be doing to help these Canadian heroes."
Officials with Veterans Affairs did not return calls, but issued a statement Friday in response to Stoffer's plea for support.
Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said outreach projects in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have assisted over 100 homeless veterans.
Lowther, 40, and his wife started Veterans Emergency Transition Services in February after he saw several of his former military colleagues at a shelter where he was serving food.
He said he started hitting the streets of Halifax, finding veterans of all ages who served in a range of conflicts including those in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
His group provides immediate shelter, food and liaison services with Veterans Affairs, he said. He wants the proposed transition facility to offer vets up to two years housing, medical attention, an address and help finding work.
Lowther, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, is using his own money to fund his work and is getting calls from across the country from other veterans interested in starting similar groups.
He said he, his wife and other vets have helped former members in their 20s and one in his 80s who was "coach-surfing" because he didn't have stable housing.
He fears the numbers will swell in the wake of the Afghan conflict and the return of hundreds of Canadian troops.