, seconded by the member for Saskatoon West, moved:
That, in the opinion of the House: (a) the government should set a goal to prevent and end veteran homelessness in Canada by 2025; (b) a plan to achieve this aim should be developed by the government and be presented to the House by June 2020, led by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and supported by the Minister of Veterans Affairs; and (c) this plan should include consideration of whether a National Veterans Housing Benefit similar to the highly successful U.S. Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Administration Supportive Housing (HUD VASH) Program would fit the Canadian context, complementing the National Housing Strategy.
He said: Mr. Speaker, as chair of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, I am honoured to have the opportunity to rise in the House today on behalf of Canadian veterans across the country and within my riding of Bay of Quinte to request my hon. colleagues' consideration of my private member's motion, Motion No. 225.
Personally, it has been an incredible experience to work alongside my hon. colleagues on the veterans affairs committee to review the issues of veterans homelessness in Canada. Throughout the committee's study on this issue, I have been constantly impressed by the solid resolve of all members to work together to fix this issue.
ln preparing our May 2019 report, I believe we all learned a great deal about the causes of homelessness and the range of solutions already put into action by key national veterans advocacy organizations. During committee, we had the chance to learn from representatives of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, VETS Canada, the Old Brewery Mission and the Royal Canadian Legion, among others, all of which retain a clear understanding of which types of veterans are most at risk.
All 22 committee witnesses have made this issue visible. They have all collected and evaluated statistics, as well as on-the-ground narratives from our veterans. They have also brought best practices for solution-building into focus by sharing clear recommendations stemming from the successes of the various trial programs or initiatives their organizations have undertaken across the country.
ln terms of general statistics, we were confronted with the reality that approximately 3,000 to 5,000 veterans are currently affected by homelessness. My riding has one of the highest populations of veterans across the country, with an estimated 3,067 veterans in total residing in the Bay of Quinte. That is nearly the same amount as the lowest threshold estimate for veterans who are homeless.
The information was made available by the homeless individuals and families information system. Each committee witness has been invaluable in clarifying the scope of the issue, bringing to light the frequency of shelter use, the typical characteristics representative of veterans identified as homeless or with a lack of stable housing and the recurring nature of this issue.
We were also presented with evidence that echoed the study findings forward in the Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health or the Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, all of which indicate a direct correlation between difficulty transitioning into post-service life or adapting to civilian society, and instability of housing.
We saw that experiences of homelessness and lack of stable housing situations typically occur about 10 years after active service, that a variety of personal situations or triggers can place veterans more at risk for housing instability and that female or indigenous veterans represent much higher instances of shelter use than other veterans. The need to pursue a housing-first approach which is adaptive and can offer personalized supports, peer guidance, as well as direct access to necessary resources has been reaffirmed by nearly all the committee witnesses as the most effective type of solution. I firmly believe this recommendation must be addressed by the Government of Canada as soon as possible.
The observations shared with the committee on the reality of veterans' experiences of homelessness or lack of stable housing stood out to all of us as something that we can fix together. Motion No. 225 recognizes that the federal government has now reached a turning point. We have the data we need and it is time to act on it. The work already done by all of our key committee witnesses and the willingness of veterans to keep lines of communication open with us is what makes proceeding with Motion No. 225 possible. With all the information at our disposal now, we must get passed triage and head toward a long-term treatment for this issue.
As a quick overview, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's veterans administration supportive housing program is a collaborative program offered by HUD and Veterans Affairs. This program combines housing vouchers with VA support services to help homeless veterans and their families find and retain permanent housing. Using the capacity of public housing authorities, the program provides rental assistance vouchers for privately owned housing to veterans who are eligible for VA health care services and who are experiencing homelessness. VA case managers can direct these veterans to support services that address their unique health needs, treatments and recovery processes. As a result, veterans are best positioned to maintain housing and support within their community.
The American program focuses on veterans who have experienced long-term or recurring episodes of homelessness. If we adopt Motion No. 225, we can build a similar program that further reinforces VAC's work to simplify and deliver the highest calibre of services and programs to our veterans and their families. VAC continues to define “well-being” as a multi-layered and personal experience and recognizes seven domains of well-being, which are employment or meaningful purpose; financial security; health; life skills and preparedness; social integration; cultural and social environment; and housing and physical environment.
At the end of the day, VAC can offer the very best training, education benefits, employment tools or resources possible, but without a home, how can we expect our veterans and their families to access those services or truly enjoy post-service life altogether? Motion No. 225 would help us make sure that the best foundation for cultivating personal well-being is firmly in place for our veterans.
There are already some incredible housing initiatives in place and new projects under way across the country which address as many of these domains as possible. ln particular, the strategies used by each of the organizations operating sites like Mainstay Housing in Toronto, Cockrell House in B.C. and soon Veterans' House here in Ottawa remind us of the importance of bringing peer-to-peer support for veterans experiencing homelessness to the forefront of our solutions.
In my own constituency office, having hired a veteran to address VAC casework, I have seen this principle in action first-hand. The positive impact that he has had on all our veterans clientele has been significant. Skip Simpson's capacity to guide veterans and their families on a full range of department services, local supports offered by advocate agencies or organizations has been instrumental in assisting veterans all across the Bay of Quinte.
Veterans who reach out to my constituency office are immediately relayed to Skip. Where necessary, he can assist with initiating or assessing status updates on Veterans Affairs Canada cases. Working alongside VAC caseworkers, Skip provides guidance and acts as a liaison throughout this process.
What I have learned from reviewing the feedback of Skip's work is that no matter how big or small the issue is, veterans are always pleased to speak with a peer who understands the nuances of their experiences. Getting veterans and their families their own walls, windows and doors is one thing; providing the satisfaction of an understanding peer community is also something that we should consider as part of this process.
There are numerous other examples of initiatives that l am not citing here which have made sure that veterans experiencing homelessness or lack of stable housing receive this type of model of service that draws from a peer-to-peer and personal support network approach.
The success of these initiatives shows us that focusing on the stability of housing is just as important as cultivating a strong sense of community to accompany it. Again, drawing from the American program's design, we know that the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, VETS Canada, the Old Brewery Mission and the Royal Canadian Legion already have a clear understanding of which types of veterans are most at risk of experiencing housing instability or homelessness.
Every year, approximately 5,550 CAF members are released from duty. Of this number, approximately 1,500 are medically released from duty. If veterans know they can connect with someone who understands their situation and can receive direction to appropriate resources and contacts from a trusted member of their community, they will feel more secure in reaching out, especially when there are sensitive personal circumstances involved.
Given that most of these organizations are led by or employ veterans, these organizations do understand how to build and maintain trust with our most vulnerable veterans across delivery of support services. These organizations have already dedicated a lot of time and effort to make sure that the full reality of a veteran's experience is taken into account.
These organizations already understand the roles, norms and language of our service community, and their staff work incredibly hard to ensure a consistent level of support when our veterans come in with questions or concerns.
If directly paired with VAC's case management services through a housing benefit delivered under the national housing strategy, a direct partnership with these organizations will accelerate the Government of Canada's ability to resolve and eliminate homelessness among Canadian veterans in the future.
Here, I would like to point out that this motion is not about duplicating or bypassing the department's caseworkers, but about providing the most personalized housing supports possible to a veteran. When this is in place, and with the department's assistance, our veterans will be better equipped to focus on accessing VAC supports or services for themselves and their family.
I firmly believe that these organizations' expertise in forming bonds of trust with our veterans is something that we need to reinforce and draw from as we move towards building a Canadian program similar to the U.S. veterans housing program. Harnessing this capacity will help us provide the most efficient and customized guidance to veterans, especially those most at risk of experiencing challenges to post-service transitions, and proceed directly to offer the casework that best fits their situation once the most essential foundation, a home, is in place.
If the House adopts this motion and moves towards development of a national veterans housing benefit, the Government of Canada would be better able to provide veterans and their families an enduring foundation by which they can access the full range of department services or local supports offered by advocate agencies and organizations. By harnessing the capacity and expertise of our on-the-ground partner organizations that serve veterans most at risk of, or are currently experiencing homelessness, we will also be better equipped to deliver a customized review of all the issues present within the given scenario, and reinforce continuity of contact between veterans and their VAC caseworkers, peers and their personal support networks.
I firmly believe that the Government of Canada has everything to gain by setting a clear timeline for meeting the goal of Motion No. 225. There are no reasons why eliminating homelessness among our Canadian veterans cannot be achieved. We can and we must do more. Therefore, I kindly request that all hon. members of the House support Motion No. 225 and push us even closer to that goal for 2025.
At this time I would like to move an amendment to my motion. I move that, in the opinion of the House, the government should (a) set a goal to prevent and end veteran homelessness in Canada by 2025; (b) a plan to achieve this aim should be developed by the government and be presented to the House by June 2020, co-led by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister of Veterans Affairs; and (c) this plan should include consideration of whether a national veterans housing benefit similar to the highly successful U.S. Housing and Urban Development veterans administration supportive housing, HUD-VASH, program would fit the Canadian context, complementing the national housing strategy.