Three things made me think about veterans this week so it seemed timely to tackle the question of veterans and homelessness generally.

  1. Bell had a #BellLetsTalk campaign to raise awareness about Mental Health issues. For every tweet with the hashtag or Facebook share and every text, mobile call, or long distance call by a Bell user, Bell is donating 5 cents to mental health initiatives. With 109,451,718 million communication interactions this means Bell will be donating nearly $5.5 million dollars this year. PTSD, depression, anxiety are all very common amongst returning veterans making mental health issues an important part of re-integration.
  2. The importance of mental health services for veterans was seen very clearly in the news the same day when Julian Fantino, Minister of Veteran Affairs, was criticized after his interactions with veterans. A planned meeting to discuss the closure of several Veterans Affairs regional offices across the country – effective January 31st – was delayed, then cancelled and then eventually resulted in a brief meeting; according to the vets who attended it was “unbelievable, unacceptable and shameful”. In the House of Commons, NDP Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair pointed out that there had been eight military suicides in the past two months. Many of these deaths are linked to mental health issues. In late November when three military suicides occurred in one week Dr. Greg Passey, an expert in PTSD told Global News that “50% of soldiers with mental health problems will contemplate suicide and 19% will attempt.” Furthermore, the Global News story revealed that 74 full-time Canadian soldiers have committed suicide in the past 5 years (this doesn’t include veterans or reservists).
  3. I took a photo (on the right) at the warming centre at Toronto’s Metro Hall of a man wrapped in a Canadian flag sleeping on the ground. I have no idea if he was a vet (I didn’t want to disturb his slumber) but he appeared to have a significant level of patriotism to use a flag as his cover. I wondered almost immediately if he was a veteran though and what his story was.

In the United States it has been very clear for a number of years that there was a strong tie between homelessness and military service. While this was particularly true beginning with the Vietnam War, it has affected veterans of all wars. Homelessness amongst Gulf War vets increased recognition of this issue. It is such a matter of importance that in 2010 a National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans was funded.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a goal of ending homelessness amongst veterans by 2015. And it’s working. Homelessness amongst veterans declined by 24% between 2009 and 2013. On December 18th 2013, Phoenix, Arizona, became the first city in the United States to end homelessness amongst homeless veterans. In early January, 2014, Salt Lake City, Utah, did the same.

But, the picture is not that rosy. Veterans' homelessness is a significant issue and while the numbers are decreasing many veterans remain homeless or at risk.  Here are some frightening statistics from the U.S. that I found in researching this topic (some of the links apply to multiple statistics):

The information in Canada is much less available.  There is some relatively new research coming out and the inclusion of questions about military service on street needs assessments and Point-In-Time counts has helped to draw the issue into the mainstream. We can assume that while the numbers won’t compare directly given the larger role of the American military, percentages are likely to be quite close once we start getting better data. Certainly, the issues leading to homeless including substance abuse, mental health issues, unemployment and problems reintegrating into everyday life will remain similar.

The lack of a national, coordinated Point-In-Time Count of the homeless population in Canada means we don’t have reliable statistics about the prevalence of homelessness amongst veterans.

  • In Toronto, the question was asked for the first time in the 2013 Street Needs Assessment. It was found that 7% of respondents indicated that they had served in the military. This included 11% of those who were sleeping outdoors and 12% of those staying in the mixed-adult shelters.
  • There were 40 homeless veterans in Niagara, according to a Royal Canadian Legion survey conducted in 2012.
  • In the most recent Point-In-Time survey in Calgary* (January 2014) 3 out of 71 homeless people on the street said they had Canadian military experience. In previous counts this number ranged from 28-40.  However, at least 2.7% (49 people out of 1799) of those housed through Calgary’s Housing First program indicated that they were veterans.

If we consider that in the State of Homeless in Canada report it was found that 30,000 people are homeless on any given night and 200,000 are homeless each year, it’s reasonable to assume that 3,000 veterans are homeless nightly and 20,000 are homeless annually.

Cheryl Forchuk (Western University) and Jan Richardson of the City of London are doing some interesting research that includes housing veterans. They built on previous research by Forchuk and Susan Ray, which looked at the needs of homeless veterans. Forchuk and Richardson’s project created 56 units of housing, 20 in Toronto,15 in Calgary, 11 in Victoria and 10 in London. Of the 65 veterans who have gone through the project only 1 has ended up back on the streets (3 are deceased). The project ends in March 2014.

There are some resources set up to help support homeless veterans:

*Results and the graph are provided by the Calgary Homeless Foundation. Report is forthcoming.

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at and we will provide a research-based answer.