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Impact of homelessness on war veterans and how London, ON is working to resolve this

Written by: Diane Lee and Shannon Magee

Edited by: Jill Howe

“One veteran experiencing homelessness is one too many.” (Government of Canada, 2023). Canadian veterans experiencing homelessness represent a unique group that comes with distinctive challenges. Canadian veterans are approximately three times more likely to be without housing than the overall population. In 2023, there were 461,240 veterans and roughly 2400 to 10,000 were unhoused across Canada (Chase et al., 2023). Since not all unhoused veterans have access or choose to access shelters, many experience hidden homelessness which can involve living in vehicles or on friends or families’ couches. For instance, in a 2018 study, 1 in 5 Canadian veterans reported not using an emergency shelter over the past year (Government of Canada, 2022). Consequently, the total number of unhoused veterans is expected to be much higher.


Veterans find themselves in unpredictable housing situations most commonly due to the difficult transition to civilian life post-military service which has been described as creating an alienating feeling. For frame of reference, in 2020, there were 629,300 veterans in Canada and from this number, 32% faced challenges while learning to adapt to a civilian lifestyle (Amon & McRae, 2021). Challenges may arise from trauma experienced not only during, but pre- and post-military service as well. Challenges experienced while adapting to civilian life include chemical dependency, financial hardships, and family and/or relationship issues. Without social support, homelessness can exaggerate these issues creating further deterioration of physical and mental health, increasing the incidence of unemployment or homelessness (Ray et al., 2011).


Veteran homelessness doesn’t just impact the individual; it affects entire communities including you! The more people experiencing homelessness the more it can affect businesses, places of worship or play, and your finances (DRC Solutions, 2023). The key solution to breaking this vicious cycle is for the federal government to develop policies and programs that will provide adequate safe housing and community support for veterans (Chase et al., 2023). Securing permanent housing with access to resources such as family counselling and addiction recovery will create stability, leading the way to healing and recovery.


In October of 2020, London Ontario was one of the first Canadian communities to achieve functional zero veteran homelessness denoted by Built For Zero Canada (Built For Zero Canada, 2021). In other words, the number of unhoused veterans in London, Ontario is equal or less than the number of veterans that are gaining housing in a month. Between March and August of 2021, London was able to reduce the number of veterans experiencing homelessness by over 57% (CAEH, 2022).


Different factors contributed to this incredible achievement. Collaborations between the city, local agencies and veterans’ organizations towards a common goal built a strong and integrated core team. By-Name List collected real-time data indicating all veterans experiencing homelessness and allowed for an accurate assessment of the issue at hand. This then led the team to create tailored solutions for all veterans and effectively use housing resources. Moreover, prioritization of veterans allowed for streamlining in the process of supporting veterans.


London is currently working to maintain this functional zero veteran homelessness and continue working towards the ultimate goal of absolute zero, where no veterans are experiencing homelessness. In honouring the sacrifices of our war veterans, let us all unite in a collective effort to provide enduring solutions for homelessness, to ensure that those who bravely served our nation find the support and dignity they deserve.


References

Amon, E., & McRae, L. (2021, November 11). Is veteran homelessness a problem in Canada? https://www.homelesshub.ca/blog/veteran-homelessness-problem-canada

Built For Zero Canada. (2021, March 1). London, Ontario: Veteran functional zero case study - bfzcanada.ca. https://bfzcanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/London-ON_Veteran-Functional-Zero-Case-Study.pdf

CAEH. (2022, April 12). London solves veteran homelessness - a first in Canadian history. CAEH. https://caeh.ca/london-solves-vet-homelessness/

Chase, T., Clement, A., Desforges, S., & Gupta, A. (2023, July 28). Addressing veteran homelessness in Canada. Maxbell School of Public Policy. https://www.mcgill.ca/maxbellschool/policy-lab-2023/veteran-homelessness#:~:text=Together%2C%20these%20findings%20demonstrate%20the,can%20provide%20access%20to%20housin

DRC Solutions (2023). Community impacts of homelessness. https://drc-solutions.org/community-impacts-of-homelessness/

Government of Canada. (2023). Understanding veteran homelessness. https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/housing-and-home-life/at-risk-housing/homeless

Government of Canada. (2022). Homelessness data snapshot: veteran homelessness in Canada. https://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/homelessness-sans-abri/reports-rapports/data-veterans-donnees-eng.html

Ray, S. L., Forchuk, C., Acosta, N., Bamford, M., & Ta’an, W. (2011). The experience of homelessness among veterans. University of Western Ontario. https://www.homelesshub.ca/sites/default/files/Homelesss%20Vets%20Article.pdf.


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