(Volume 25 Issue 6)
By Michael Nickerson
Seamus O’Regan has a dream: an end to homelessness in our time. Of course not for everyone, as he’s just the minister for veterans affairs and not minister for universal housing. No, his mandate is limited and so is his budget. But gosh darn his words flow like water, his aspirations soar high and far; a limitless horizon of hope. If benevolence were bricks, homeless veterans would be moving into mansions as we speak.
The thing is, they’re not. By the federal government’s own estimates from 2014, almost 3000 veterans used shelters that year. But whether they’re in shelters, surfing couches, or living rough in back alleys, the fact is they’ve “fallen between the cracks” as Seamus likes to put it. Others might say they’ve been betrayed by the government and the country they served, but let’s not split hairs here.
No, this is important stuff to Seamus, a problem he wants to “get rid of,” to “eliminate,” sounding more Mafioso than ministerial in his word choice, though passionate nonetheless. As he recently opined in St. John’s, “there should never be a veteran that’s homeless in Canada.” Alleluia brother! Let’s go whack some homelessness!
For veterans looking for a roof over their head and some stability in their life, this should seem very encouraging news, perhaps even inspiring. As Seamus put it, “I think we’ve got the tools that we can do it, but we’ll do it together, a whole bunch of groups together.” And there are no shortage of groups and people who want to “do it,” most notably Veterans Emergency Transition Services (VETS). Founded in 2010 to provide aid and support to homeless and at risk veterans, they’ve been putting volunteers on the ground, in cities and towns, shelters and the street, reaching out to veterans with veterans. They’ve helped hundreds across Canada to get off the street, into housing, get the benefits and the resources they’re entitled to. They’ve made sure homeless veterans at least have a meal and an understanding ear. Not bad for an eight-year-old non-profit with limited resources but a lot of willing volunteers.
If nothing else they have a proven strategy - one Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) has contracted with to some extent to help solve what VAC can’t - one that saw Seamus O’Regan waxing eloquent while seeing volunteers off to do outreach during VETS annual Tour of Duty national campaign in June. So a little more money and support should be able to “eliminate” the problem entirely, don’t cha think? Where there’s a will there’s a way and all that.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that when it comes to Team Justin™ there’s much in purported “will,” but not much in “way.” Consider if you will the recent news that the government has left some $2.3 billion dollars budgeted for military spending to sit idle over the last two years, even while the military asks its members to turn in their sleeping bags due to a shortfall in available kit. And what about the fact that the already delayed and scaled down peacekeeping contribution to Mali is still working on Justin Time™ and seems to be delayed indefinitely?
So, when it comes to VAC and its official plan on veteran homelessness, it might not be much of a surprise that the plan has a five-year rollout, after two years of planning and debating, and like everything else promised to the military and its veterans, it is well over the horizon, past the next election, past another mandate, another carrot to stick with the team.
Seamus recently suggested that the government might dip into its promised $40 billion national housing budget to help build housing specifically for veterans, but stated that “If we can get veterans off the streets now, then we’ll do it now. We’re not waiting on a strategy.” Well shame on you Seamus, because you are waiting. You’re waiting for another day, another time, another stalling tactic. The money, the resources, the people are there to fix the problem. For once all it needs is real will, not the lip service you’ve been giving the people you serve.
But that isn’t going to happen, is it Seamus?