Understanding Veteran Homelessness
Veteran homelessness is a growing issue in Canada. The State of Homelessness in Canada reports that there are almost 3,000 veterans staying in shelters, making up 2.2% of annual shelter users.
About 25% of the veteran population in Canada face difficulties transitioning from military service to civilian life and could face a risk of homelessness, mental illness, and addictions.
While veterans make up approximately 2% of the Canadian population, advocates are concerned with the overrepresentation of veterans in the homeless population.
2018 numbers show
6% of new clients at Haven Toronto
self-identify as veterans.
In Metro Vancouver Region’s 2014 Point-in-Time Count, 7% of respondents indicated that they had served in the Canadian Forces. In Toronto, the same percentage was reported in their 2013 Street Needs Assessment. Updated Point-in-Time numbers are expected later this month.
A 2014 study by Forchuk and Richardson found that 92.1 of the veterans they interviewed were men, with an average age of 52 years old.
Many participants had
5 years on average.
For many, there was a significant lag time between the time they left in the Canadian Forces (over 24 years ago) and when they first experienced homelessness (9.8 years ago), indicating a long path into homelessness.
Another study found that veterans comprised 4.3% of a sample of the adult homeless population with severe mental illness. But beyond these demographic criteria, not much else has been researched.
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) highlights the importance of career transition upon returning from service. Veterans themselves also identified additional challenges beyond starting a new career.
Transitioning to civilian life was one of the main factors leading to homelessness, reports another study by Forchuk from 2011.
One veteran described the transition “like being on Mars and coming back to earth.” Another one shared a similar experience:
“I was trying to set up a business at the time with no financial presence in the civilian world…which made it hard to get loans… I wound up at that time homeless.”
Regardless of the time of their release from military service, many veterans have expressed the need for a structured transitional program over several months that can assist them with adapting back to everyday life in their communities.
Supports with personal finances, budgeting, vocational rehabilitation, family counselling, mental health, substance use, housing, and paperwork, are just some of the supportive services that veterans mentioned that they would like to receive.
Haven Toronto helps clients
navigate systems and access
programs that assist with finances,
housing, mental health, and addiction.
This transition can also affect veterans’ mental health and substance use. Studies show the prevalence of addiction and mental illness among veterans but especially for those experiencing homelessness. This could be a contributing factor to their homelessness or may have been triggered and/or worsened by the stressful realities of not having a home.
While 11% of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many reported using alcohol to deal with their mental health.