04/12/2012 12:07 EDT | Updated 06/11/2012 05:12 EDT

That Homeless Person Could Have Fought in the War

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The issue of homelessness is a concern for communities right across Canada. The issue of veterans' homelessness however has flown below the radar for many of us. It is a very real problem that requires increased awareness, support for affected individuals and a more active response from the government of Canada. All too often homeless veterans have been forgotten.

A lack of research in this area has resulted in a narrow approach to the supports needed to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the inability of a former Canadian Forces member to adjust to everyday life after active duty. Thankfully, this lack of knowledge is finally being addressed through an interview-based study at the University of Western Ontario.

Susan Ray, professor at the Nursing School at UWO, has so far conducted 48 interviews with homeless veterans in various Canadian cities. Her findings suggest the cause of this social issue is not PTSD, but alcoholism and addiction. Most of the participants interviewed had never been deployed overseas yet still struggled to adjust after leaving the Canadian Forces because of the sudden lack of structure, which they managed with various substances. This suggests that discharged military personnel who have not seen active combat need to be monitored more closely than was previously thought necessary.

Just because this group does not suffer from PTSD does not guarantee a smooth transition to civilian life. Even without knowing the trend discovered in this study, Veteran Affairs Canada should be ensuring fair and equitable support to ALL of Canada's veterans and not just a small portion of high-risk cases. The department needs to take corrective action to ensure there is not only enough support nation-wide to meet the needs of a growing number of homeless veterans, but also that this support is achieving effective results.

One initiative that I would like to mention on the subject of support for homeless veterans is The Royal Canadian Legion's Operation: Leave the Streets Behind. This program is offered in partnership with Veterans Affairs Canada and is designed to connect homeless veterans with various forms of assistance. The program can help find the following services: assistance with medical needs, acquiring assistive devices, emergency transportation, emergency financial support, food, shelter, and addiction programs. Canadian veterans of all ages are eligible including those of the Commonwealth ex-service and Allied countries ex-service. Unfortunately, however, this operation remains a pilot program in Toronto, though it was started in 2010. It is essentially driven by Ontario Command Legion Branches.

We know that homeless veterans are located across Canada, though there is no accurate count of how many there are. The federal government needs to face the challenge of homeless veterans on at least an equal scale to the efforts of the Legion. I belief Veteran Affairs Canada should present a national initiative to provide programs and funding for the rehabilitation of individual veterans, the men and women who have dedicated much of the lives to the service of their country. It is unacceptable that they are now being neglected by the federal government.

Meanwhile, there are many community initiatives individuals can support to further the cause of ending veterans' homelessness.

The Duchess of Kent Legion's recent St. Patrick's Day Dinner and Dance for the Homeless Veteran's Fund is a wonderful example of veterans helping veterans and of London, Ontario's recognition of those who dedicated much of their life to military service. All the proceeds from Duchess of Kent's event, the ticket sales, donations and a raffle were given directly to The Royal Canadian Legion Homeless Veterans Fund.

The support of local businesses in the form of merchandise for the raffle was an important part of the success of the evening and was much appreciated. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this event on March 17th and was very proud to see community engagement for such an important cause. Thank you to all the organizers and volunteers at the Duchess of Kent Legion for all their hard work. I hope Londoners will continue to support this event in the future.