Serving homeless vets at Shepherds of Good Hope
A recent study by Employment and Social Development Canada estimated that “about 2,250 former soldiers use shelters on a regular basis,” which is “about 2.7 per cent of the total homeless population that uses temporary lodging.”
The number in Ottawa has been estimated at about 150. This does not include veterans who do not use shelters. There is much work to be done to verify the number of homeless veterans and to identify contributing factors.
At the Shepherds of Good Hope, we know veterans utilize our shelter. Every month, there are men and women here who identify as being a veteran.
We also serve veterans in our supportive living programs. We try very hard to build a rapport and determine the best course of action for putting people in touch with appropriate community supports so that their shelter stay is short and their transition to housing is successful.
We know there are times and circumstances when we must seek help from other sources to work with those who come to us. There are a multitude of reasons as to why people become homeless. Some are fleeing abusive family situations, some struggle with mental illnesses and addictions; others are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or various factors related to their experiences in the military. Assisting veterans in connecting with resources to successfully attain and maintain housing is our ultimate goal. It’s different for everyone. There is no one size fits all plan.
When it comes to helping veterans, we know we’re not the experts. We also know that many veterans choose not to disclose their status when they enter the shelter system. Even though our team of front line workers, client service experts, case managers and diversion workers do a great job of supporting veterans, they are often more comfortable in connecting with those who have served.
Soldiers Helping Soldiers is a wonderful, Ottawa-based volunteer initiative that works with veterans to connect them with various support agencies. This team of serving and former military personnel visits our buildings regularly. They arrive in uniform, serve food at meal times, walk through our programs and try to connect with veterans on a personal level.
SHS also facilitates peer support groups at Shepherds, where they provide veterans with opportunities to connect with and access support from those who have personally experienced the challenges and realities of military life. This has been helpful to us and to the veterans who find themselves without the supports they need to become successfully housed again.
VETS Canada is another great organization, national in scope, whose work aims at getting veterans off the streets and out of shelters and into affordable housing. They help them connect with mental health care or access benefits and services from other agencies. They also help them find jobs. VETS Canada visits our organization regularly to connect with those who might benefit from their services.
At the Shepherds of Good Hope, veterans are one of the groups of people we strive to help. Like all the people we serve, they come from every walk of life, and our goal is to provide support without judgement. And sometimes we get a little help from our friends.
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Deirdre Freiheit is the President and CEO of Shepherds of Good Hope