Thank you for having me here today.
My name is Aaron Segaert. I led research for the homeless individuals and families information system from 2009 to 2017. HIFIS is the common term for this. It's a computer system that was built by the federal government and installed at homeless shelters across the country. It gives information about shelter stays. We do research with that data.
Although not everyone experiencing homelessness uses a shelter, HIFIS contains a very large slice of the homeless population and allows us to understand a lot about the different types of people who use shelters across Canada.
HIFIS started collecting information about homeless veterans in 2013, and it took about two to three years for the data to really accumulate.
The first research we did was in 2014. Actually, it took place in 2015, using 2014 data. That report was called the “The Extent and Nature of Veteran Homelessness”. I didn't name it that. It was named by comms instead of by me. They put the “The Extent and Nature of” on there. HIFIS can't tell us a whole lot about the “nature” of veteran homelessness. It can tell us a lot about the numbers, though.
This was the first report that had ever given us an estimate of how many homeless veterans there might be in Canada. No one really had any idea before that. What we found, using a sample of, I think, 60 shelters, was that there were about.... We estimated that there were about 2,250 veterans using shelters annually. That's about 2.7% of shelter users.
The important thing to keep in mind with shelter statistics is that we look at them over the course of a year. That doesn't mean that there are 2,200 homeless veterans right now. It means that over the course of a year, that's how many use shelters. The other thing is that any veterans who didn't use shelters wouldn't be included in that number, so there could be more.
The other interesting finding in that initial report was that veterans were more likely to be episodically homeless than other shelter users were. What this means is that they're in and out of homelessness. They keep returning, over and over again. Technically the definition is.... A homeless episode is a time using a shelter separated by at least 30 days before returning to the shelter again. If you have at least three of those in one year, you're considered episodically homeless. We found that veterans were about twice as likely as other shelter users to be episodically homeless.
The other thing we found interesting was that there were quite a few female veterans using shelters. In the general population of homeless shelter users, it's about a 70:30 male to female split. We found the same thing among veterans, but when we looked at veterans under 25, it was actually about half and half. About half of the veterans under 25 using shelters were female.
I think a lot of the idea we have about homeless veterans is that they're older men, but at this point, most of the veterans of the big wars are very old and are not using shelters anymore. These are people who have been in the military in some capacity. It's also not necessary that they had been overseas or in combat. That's why we have some people who are saying they had served in the military, and who are quite young and finding themselves homeless.
Two years later we released another study called “The National Shelter Study”, which isn't specifically about veterans, but it did mention veterans in there. We have an updated number.
For that report, we used a much larger sample and a more sophisticated methodology. We found that out of the approximately 137,000 to 156,000 Canadians who use homeless shelters each year, about 2.2% were veterans in 2014, which is the first year that we were able to produce that number. This comes out to about 2,950 veterans, in that estimate. It's a little bit higher than the other one, but these are estimates. There's some error around it. It's just a guideline. It's not an exact number.
Again we found the same type of pattern, where about 70% were male and 30% were female. We also again found that over half of the veterans under 30 were females. As far as the males go, they tended to be slightly older on average than other male shelter users.
In that study, we found no significant difference in the length of stay between shelter users with and without military service. That particular study is not really designed to look at chronic and episodic homelessness, so we didn't have any new figures for that.
I would say that the figure of 2,950 is more accurate than the initial study with the estimate of 2,250 veterans. It uses far more data, a better sampling method, and all that.
I think ESDC will be releasing 2015 and 2016 figures in the next few months. I know that at the time I left ESDC and the homelessness partnering strategy, they were working on updates to that study.
The third method that gives us a glimpse about homeless veterans is the point-in-time count. There was a Canada-wide point-in-time count in 2016. The counts in cities are where they go out on one day and just look for people who are in the shelters and on the street. They typically find a few more veterans than we do in the shelter studies. We've heard anecdotally that a lot of veterans don't like to use shelters. Typically, in the point-in-time counts, around 5% to 6% of the people counted have served in the military. This varies by community as well. I think the results showed that somewhere between 0% and 13%, depending on the community, were veterans.
Some of the reasons for the differences could be that veterans are just less likely to use shelters, so more of them are found when you consider sheltered and unsheltered homeless people. It could be due to missing data in our shelter studies. As I mentioned, within HIFIS, the software that the government provides to shelters to count homelessness, we only started rolling out the veteran question in 2013. It takes quite a long time for that to be populated, so there are still some cases where that is missing and we don't know whether someone is a veteran or not. It could also be under-reported, because it's based on self-report and some people might not disclose that they are veterans, or they might not be asked. For whatever reason, that data might be missing.
These are estimates over a one-year period that I have been talking about, the 2,250 and the 2,900 veterans. That shows that there definitely are homeless veterans, and we can probably safely say there are more than 2,000 veterans experiencing homelessness in Canada each year. It's about 2% to 3% of the shelter population. I believe veterans are around 2.4% of the Canadian population, so that means they're not overrepresented in homeless shelters.
Male veterans tend to be older. Female veterans tend to be younger. This is probably an area for further research, probably not using the HIFIS dataset but in terms of actually going out and trying to find young veterans and talking to them about their experiences of homelessness.
The other interesting thing when we compare the shelter studies that I worked on with the point-in-time counts is that we should try to find out more about the veterans who are experiencing homelessness, whether they are less likely to use shelters than others and find out what the reasons for that might be.
That's about the gist of what I can tell you. If you have more questions about statistics, I'm your man for that. If you want to know more about people who actually interact with veterans, I'm not really able to say much about that.
First, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to be here today, to share some of our experiences that we've learned over the last 10 years.
In the spring of 2009, we started Cockrell House and got our society status in August of that year. It is transitional housing and I believe that we're still the only such place in Canada.
Over the years, we have participated in two of the HPS studies that the doctor spoke of. That's where we learned an awful lot of what we know, from the professionals. We found it to be of good value.
The housing first model is the slot that they put us in. We are convinced that it works, but not in isolation. Food and a bus pass, which allows mobility, cannot be overrated. That's right from the start, when we first get one of them in. You give somebody a bus pass and it's more than giving them a car. They can finally get around. If they have an appointment, they can keep the appointments. It's really been an important part of our program.
Counselling and peer support must be part of the program. We would like to be a success with them all. We don't want it to be a revolving door. We don't want it to be considered just a cheap place to live. It's a place where you can decompress, sit back and take stock of your situation, to figure out where you are and how you got there.
We're often asked questions like, “Why are these people helping us? We've been alone drifting and whatnot”. I think the relative comfort that they feel.... Without that relative comfort, it's difficult to make good decisions. When you wind up in a place, like being homeless, you're not in a position to make good decisions. You're just not. I believe this could happen to any of us.
We immediately hook a new resident up with a Veterans Affairs caseworker, if they don't already have one. Typically, most don't at that point in time. They should, but for various reasons, they don't. The Veterans Affairs office is a great big scary place. An awful lot of them have said, “I went in there and I was treated like a dog”. Of course, that is not true, since it's just their perception. They walked in and they didn't know the questions to ask.
We get them hooked up with a caseworker right away and we've been really fortunate. We've had some great front-line people with Veterans Affairs. They are people that care a lot more than just a nine-to-five job. There are some excellent people doing some great work.
Another thing that we've learned is the value of veterans helping veterans. This was something we envisioned at the start, but we were unsure how it would work. It does work and I think it's a big part of the success that we see. The realization that they are still part of a family, with others that have served, can be quite a revelation. People that have served are used to being part of a military family, where they have each other's backs. It's the culture, so to find out that now that they're out and they're veterans they are still part of a family, it's a big step.
One of the better things that we've done is that we have a resident manager now who is there 24-7. He's a veteran himself. He was kind of drifting in life. I talked to him for a little bit and got him to come on board. He's totally committed. He did 20 years in the service and came out as a sergeant. They relate to him.
Another real bonus is that some people that have gone through Cockrell House and are now back in society. They have connected with family members and whatnot. With just a phone call, they're willing to come and speak to the guys and women. As the doctor mentioned, there are female homeless veterans, too. In the time that we've been going, I think there have been seven females who have gone through our program.
A veteran, a man or woman who has served, is different from those who have not. They possess pride and an understanding and acceptance of rules, an understanding of rank and structure, of responsibility. They want to know what the rules are. They might want to figure out how to get around them, but they want to know what the rules are and who ultimately they have to answer to. They were trained that way, and understanding some of these things has made it a little easier to help them.
Rarely have we found a veteran in a shelter—rarely. They are more likely to avoid society, to shun the urban setting. You're not going to see them sitting on the corner in a city. You're just not. It's back to that pride. A lot of the ones who are still of age are possibly living in the bush. We found them living there, or maybe they have a camper that's sitting on the ground and stuck away. Also they're couch surfing. Often we've had quite a few who have been living with a buddy in their basement, and finally the buddy's wife says, “Look, he's been here long enough. Christmas is coming. We have guests. He has to go.” They hear about Cockrell House and that's where they end up.
Most of them, a large percentage of them, aren't living in shelters. The fact that they won't have anything to do with a shelter, I think, skews some of the statistics too, because obviously that's where the statistics have to be collected. But the others, how do you ever account for them? I've come to the conclusion, and my belief is, that probably 8% to 10% of the homeless population has worn a uniform.
Mental health and PTSD and whatnot are not usually primary causes of homelessness. In a lot of cases, any addictions are self-medicating health issues. The average stay at Cockrell House is about one year, although a few have stayed with us for less than a year and successfully got back into society. Many have been in the two-year range.
Indeed, we have one veteran right now who has already been with us two and a half years, who served 19 years in the military. He was medically released, and within the next few years he fell apart. His family fell apart, and he was living in his vehicle when we first found him. He's taken courses, he's worked hard, he completed his grade 12 and he's now taking a course in addiction counselling. He has a son with special needs and he's very focused. I think his son is definitely his motivation. We're going to continue to support him until he's completed the courses. It doesn't matter how long, because we don't have a definite period of time. We can't say, “You've hit three years. You have to go.”
When we started we set three years for various reasons, but we got rid of that. We put it to two years and we got rid of that. With everybody, it's whatever each person needs and what will help them. The idea is, once again, that it's not a revolving door.
The cost to operate the house works out to be about $1,100 a month. While that seems low, there are quite a few reasons. One of them is that we're all volunteers, but we have a lot of in-kind help. The only furniture we buy is a brand new bed when we get somebody. Other than that, all the furniture and things we have are donated. There are people who pass away, and the estate will say, “We've heard about Cockrell House and the veterans. We'd like them to have first shot at everything they want before we put it out for sale.” We've had a lot of that. We've had people, especially veterans themselves, downsize and go into a condo.
We have gotten much of the furniture that way, and some of it nice stuff. When veterans are finished, when they are successful and can move on to their own place, we send them away with everything they need. They come in with nothing; you can't send them back out with nothing. We send them with everything they need to set up a home. In some cases, if it's going to be an apartment, it's first month's rent and whatnot. In many cases we'll continue supporting them for a while, even if it's just with a bus pass or a food voucher to help out now and then, just to get them on their feet.
The other thing we do, after the first couple of months, is assess each individual's own situation. We encourage them to make a contribution—we're careful not to call it rent, ever—to the project. This can vary from $200 to $500 a month, depending, obviously, on their income. This has proven helpful not just to extending our program but to their feeling of worthiness. They are now helping themselves. They're helping the program. They're helping what's helping them. We found that to be quite inspirational.
Our daily struggle, of course, has been for funding. We've never received any financial support from the federal or provincial governments. Without the Royal Canadian Legion we couldn't survive.
But we have to grow. The need is too great. Right now, if we had three times the number of rooms we have, I'm confident that within three or four months the place would be full. It's not that we turn people away. Those who will go to a shelter go to a shelter or just stay where they are until we have room. I wish it weren't so.
I've thought about that question a lot, and there is. It's just a personal thing. My grandfather was in the First World War. He had quite an influence on me. He came back, obviously, but he was injured, very traumatized. I knew Grandpa lived with demons. That's the only way I could put it.
He was a piper and he taught me how to play the bagpipes. It was a bond. Other than that, I don't know that I would have ever connected. Indeed, most of his grandchildren didn't. I think that kind of stuck with me.
I saw what my father went through after the Second World War—and he joined again and went to Korea—to a far lesser degree. I think that must have been in the back of my mind, though, because as soon as I heard about this, just over a conversation in a coffee shop, to be honest, I felt that here was something I had to do, never thinking that 10 years down the road I'd ever still be doing it.
I think that's just the personal part. The other thing is that I belong to the Royal Canadian Legion, whose mandate is to look after veterans and their families. There are 1,400 Legion branches in Canada, and every one of them has a service officer. It's a little bit of a finger on the pulse of the community. They know who is coming in for a little bit of a handout now and then or a little bit of help.
I think this is something that, maybe even in the next point of time, all of the Legion branches in that area should be approached about too, because they know of cases that aren't visible. That's how we found many of the people.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. Thank you for inviting the Royal Canadian Naval Benevolent Fund to address you today.
My name is Chief Petty Officer, retired, Bob Cléroux. I retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Navy in 2013 after serving 37 years. My last post was as a Canadian Forces chief warrant officer.
I've been a member of the Royal Canadian Legion since 2006 and am presently employed by the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, a federation of 15 private not-for-profit security companies with a social mandate of providing meaningful employment to veterans.
All this is to say that I have a lot of empathy for veterans, but I'm here today as president of the Royal Canadian Naval Benevolent Fund. I've been with the fund since 2007 and have served as its president for the past five years.
With me today is our vice-president, Lieutenant-Commander Tom Riefesel. He also has over 35 years of service with the Royal Canadian Navy.
The Royal Canadian Naval Benevolent Fund's mission is to relieve distress and support the well-being of both serving and veteran families of Canada, and we've been doing this since 1942. The RCNBF provides financial support through grants, loans and bursaries to serving and former members of the Canadian Forces, both regular and reserve, who wear the naval uniform, and those other than navy who have at least one year of service with units of the Royal Canadian Navy.
This support is also extended to eligible dependants, and we also provide support to Canadian Merchant Navy veterans who fall under the act formerly called the Merchant Navy Veteran and Civilian War-Related Benefits Act and their dependants.
For 76 years, the RCNBF has served the naval forces of Canada through distress loans, grants and educational support programs to qualified naval personnel and their dependants. During this period we have assisted more than 40,000 people and given out over $17 million.
Over the past year alone, we have provided financial assistance to 237 qualified applicants, totalling $588,388. That total is broken down as follows: 83 grants totalling $250,757 were disbursed to 25 serving sailors, 54 veterans and four merchant navy vets; and 19 loans totalling $218,706 were disbursed, of which 14 were approved to serving members. In recent years, the issuing of loans is becoming an increasing and useful part of our business. Thirty-two educational bursaries were awarded to 32 young Canadians in pursuit of post-secondary education, totalling $34,000, Also, 108 minor disbursements, totalling $84,926, were made.
The minor disbursement fund is used to provide emergency assistance to eligible applicants on application to a Veterans Affairs Canada office, to VETS Canada, or through the Royal Canadian Legion branches. The maximum MDF grant is $1,000. Legion branches, with their widespread accessibility, continue to be a valuable conduit to those who need this type of assistance.
In addition to direct financial assistance, the RCNBF collaborates with other funding and supporting agencies in order to provide the right level of assistance in a timely and efficient manner. One should not underestimate the power of these well-established relationships. We feel that there are many reasons leading to homelessness, including substance abuse, mental illness, traumatic brain injury and undiagnosed developmental disabilities, to name a few, and the RCNBF have helped in some of those cases.
Normally, either the Legion or VETS Canada finds the recipients on the streets and engages us in participating in helping them into some sort of housing. We had a veteran in southern Ontario who was found living in a tent. When he was approached, all he wanted from us was a lamp for his tent and a bicycle to go to work with. We helped, but I'm glad to report he is now in an apartment. With thanks, and in co-operation with the Royal Canadian Legion, he has left the streets behind.
We, the RCNBF, are also seeing other types of homelessness or near homelessness caused by financial distress. This financial distress can be the result of poor decisions during transition. As an example, a recent client received a large amount of money upon release. He did not qualify for a pension. He spent more than half of his settlement on the purchase of a house that needed a lot of repairs. He does not have a salary or a pension, so the bank won't lend him any money to fix his roof or his heating.
Some sailors find the transition from the military to the civilian world very difficult. The military provides financially and medically. You're clothed, fed and taken care of in almost every way. The military becomes part of an extended family. Now imagine someone who releases or retires without family support. He or she may feel abandoned, alone, maybe even desperate.
In another recent case, a divorced father moved to Oshawa for employment to be closer to his child, only to find that the job he was expecting had disappeared. He's now couch surfing. We will try to assist him with the first and last month's rent.
In my opinion, the majority of veterans retire or release from the Canadian Armed Forces without issues. They are prepared financially, they have a support network and they have a job lined up once they transition.
There is a fraction—and I'm not sure how big that fraction is—who, when they release from the Canadian Armed Forces, are unprepared for that transition. They leave the Canadian Armed Forces at risk because they are not prepared financially, educationally, emotionally and medically, and they lack the knowledge for a successful transition.
ln conclusion, I consider that the Royal Canadian Naval Benevolent Fund, over these past 76 years, has fulfilled and will continue to fulfill its mandate, coast to coast to coast. The RCNBF has made a very meaningful contribution to the relief of distress and the promotion of well-being for those who have served and continue to serve Canada at sea, their dependants and their families.
The board of directors, membership and administrative staff wish to express their sincere appreciation for the co-operation and assistance received from Veterans Affairs Canada, CFPAF, SISIP, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Soldiers' Aid Commission, the Royal Canadian Legion and a host of other organizations, whose members are dedicated to helping our veterans and eligible applicants.
Tom and I would be happy to take any questions.
Good afternoon, honourable members of the House and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.
The Multifaith Housing Initiative is a charitable non-profit housing organization working in Ottawa since 2002. Its mission is to provide safe, well-maintained and affordable housing and supports for individuals and families who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.
MHI has a proven track record in the development and successful delivery of affordable housing. We have just completed a 98-unit community in west Ottawa that was recently awarded the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association award for “Best Community (Built)” in 2017. The community was built on time, on budget and to the right deliverable.
MHI plans to create an affordable housing project with supports for veterans at risk of homelessness. The project will use a supportive housing-first model that seeks to help the veterans deal with health, mental health and addictions-related issues.
MHI will create the project on the site of the former Rockcliffe air base in Ottawa's east end. This site has been declared surplus by DND, and the Canada Lands Company has undertaken the required site planning and servicing needed to dispose of the property. MHI was able to secure a piece of the land on the air base in March 2018 through the federal program known as the surplus federal real property for homelessness initiative, run under ESDC.
To give you a few facts and statistics we have on the problem, the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa conducted a survey in April 2015. Of the homeless people they interviewed over a five-day period, they found that 8.5% of the homeless persons surveyed reported Canadian military service. That compares to 6.4% in Hamilton and 5% in Waterloo.
In April of this year, Ottawa conducted a government-mandated point-in-time count of the homeless population. In a two-day period, they found that 5% of respondents identified as former Canadian military or RCMP members, 62 as Canadian Armed Forces and three as RCMP. Of these respondents, 35% also identified as indigenous. Over the past three years, Soldiers Helping Soldiers, an Ottawa-based boots-on-the-ground organization of serving military members who volunteer in the shelters to identify and aid military veterans, has encountered over 380 homeless persons with prior military service.
In 2016, the Mental Health Commission of Canada released its report entitled “At Home/Chez Soi”. In this study, we learned that compared to other participants veterans had higher levels of education, were 1.6 times more likely to have been robbed prior to the study and were 1.4 times more likely to have PTSD.
The Chez Soi study, combined with similar studies coming out of the U.K. and the U.S., has given us the following insights. Alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health problems contribute to and perpetuate homelessness amongst veterans, especially in cases where there were pre-existing mental health conditions. Drinking—socially and as a means of compensation—began while in the military.
Also, the transition from military to civilian life is dislocating for many. The abrupt change to the relatively unstructured civilian world from a very highly structured one can also disrupt focus, trust and friendships.
As well, a variety of reasons conspire to separate vets from their Canadian Forces or Veterans Affairs Canada benefits, such as legal obligations to others, no fixed address, no ID, etc. Homeless veterans describe a complex relationship with VAC. Some felt abandoned by VAC once they were discharged. Others felt that they were well supported by VAC, indicating that they were getting the help they needed to move on with life.
The Multifaith Housing Initiative solution is Veterans' House. We are committed to the construction and ongoing management of this project. It will be a 40-unit home for veterans who are currently homeless or at high risk of homelessness, and it will include wraparound supports.
Veterans' House will target the needs specifically and solely of homeless veterans who are living rough or are at high risk of becoming homeless due to mental health needs. The supportive housing model will help these individuals gain stable housing, recover from health, mental health and addiction-related issues, and improve their overall quality of life as well as the lives of their families who are unable to provide them with the support they need.
MHI is currently advancing Veterans' House to a place where we can be prepared to start construction in 2019. Therefore, at this moment in time, MHI is working towards the goal of getting this project as shovel ready as possible to ensure that once all the funding is secured there are no delays in construction.
To this date, MHI has secured the land through the federal government, submitted our site plan application to the City of Ottawa and submitted an application to the co-investment fund, which was created as part of the national housing strategy and is administered by CMHC. This fund identifies veterans specifically as a special priority group to benefit from the fund. We have embarked on a very large $5-million capital campaign to support the project.
MHI takes a collaborative approach to all of our projects. In this vein, MHI has built up a village of collaborations and partnerships to support our tenants in Veterans' House once it is constructed. Partners and stakeholders for Veterans' House include Ottawa Salus, Veterans Affairs Canada, Soldiers Helping Soldiers, the Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Command and District G, True Patriot Love, Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services, Support Our Troops, and Helmets to Hardhats.
However, all projects come with challenges and ours is not without them.
The challenges we have faced on this project include a lack of provincial and municipal participation in the funding, which makes long-term viability more difficult. We have solved this issue by embarking on the large capital campaign I spoke of and reaching out to the public to fill the gaps that the province or municipality would have filled in a more traditional affordable housing build.
Also, the underwriting process for the CMHC co-investment fund as it is currently being implemented by CMHC is arduous, exceptionally risky for the proponents, impractical and at risk of causing some unreasonable delays to the project. Further, once all the documents are prepared for CMHC's underwriting review to begin, proponents are expected to begin construction without funding or to try to fund the early few months of construction by themselves.
Another issue we have found is that CMHC is refusing to continue the underwriting process until we have confirmed the full receipt of the $5-million capital campaign. A capital campaign of that size will take us at least two to three years to complete, and it was our plan to do the capital campaign while in construction.
MHI believes that Canada owes these men and women of the Canadian military service a duty of care. We are doing our part to respond to that. We also believe that there is strong federal support across all party lines for those former soldiers who are so desperate for our help. For that, we are very thankful to you.
Once funded initially, Veterans' House will sustainably continue to care for our veterans for years to come without any further funding from the government, and it will be something real and tangible that we can all feel very proud of for years to come.
Thank you very much for your attention today.
I want to start by thanking the three witnesses here today.
You clearly speak with such care and compassion for our veterans, and the work you do is tremendous. It is a great service to veterans and to our country, so I want to commend our witnesses for their hard work. This care and compassion is exemplified by the investments that I know over the past three years have been made to support veterans—a total of $10 billion.
One of the challenges, as you mentioned, Mr. Cléroux, is to be able to identify veterans and to offer and provide the types of support they need. I'm glad you gave the example of the veteran who was living in a tent and all he wanted was a lamp and a bicycle to get to work with. Of course, there are many other resources and services that can be provided to support veterans like him.
Mr. Cléroux, I know that your organization offers direct financial assistance through a number of different funds. One of the new funds that was launched April 1 of this year is the veterans emergency fund.
Do you know if that fund is being accessed to its potential in providing the $2,500 per veteran per year for extenuating circumstances, and to help pay for food, shelter and other situations that come up that veterans need support for?