The Experience of Homelessness Among Canadian Forces and Allied Forces Veterans, Susan L. Ray and Cheryl Forchuk (University of Western Ontario), 2011.
This report, funded by the Homeless Partnering Secretariat (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada), seeks to redress the knowledge gap that exists regarding homelessness among Canadian Forces and Allied Forces veterans. While the study references some literature regarding research completed in other countries, this study represents the first national study on the subject in Canada.
The study takes an interpretative approach, focusing on the human experience by means of individual interviews with 54 veterans who were either currently homeless or had experienced homelessness within the past year. These interviews took place in five cities London, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria.
The report identifies one overarching analytical interpretation: a downward spiral that can become a vicious circle. This downward spiral is reflected in the three principle themes that emerge from the interviews:
A long journey from the military home to homelessness
- The average participant had been released from the military 27 years ago
- The average participant first experience homelessness 11 years ago
The best and worst of the system
- The majority of participants identified the shelter system as providing the best services, including resources and referrals
- Several participants indicated that they had no follow-up from VAC since their release from the military
Two different worlds
like being on Mars and coming to Earth
- Most participants expressed how different military life is from civilian life and identified the difficulties of the transitioning process as one of the major problems leading to homelessness
- Most participants felt that the transitioning services offered by the military were inadequate
- There is a need for education among Department of National Defense (DND) and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) personnel for the early detection of alcohol abuse and other drug addictions prior to and immediately following veterans release from the military.
- DND and VAC must also recognize that alcohol and drug abuse are used by some veterans as means to cope with difficulties of transitioning from military to civilian life.
- Government needs to evaluate transitional programs to determine their effectiveness.
- VAC counselors must conduct follow-up interviews with veterans to determine their eligibility for benefits and/or pensions
The stated aim of this study is to understand the experience of homelessness, the underlying causes of homelessness and the supports needed to prevent and reduce homelessness among veterans. This represents the first step towards achieving those aims.
The analysis of the interviews points to the difficulties in transitioning from military to civilian life as a major contributor to homelessness among veterans. The participants themselves also identify alcoholism, drug use and mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder as significant factors. Nevertheless, because the homelessness in this study occurs many years after the veterans release from the military, no causal link can be made between military service and homelessness.
The strength of this study lies in its introduction of the voices of veterans into the discussion of homelessness in Canada. These veterans believe that their distinct needs and experiences make them a unique group within the homeless population. As this report states, more research needs to be done to determine the extent of the problem of homelessness among veterans.
The principle investigators of this study argue that Canadian society has a moral obligation to care for the homeless veteran population. This obligation must begin with the Canadian government, the DND the VAC ensuring that services and supports are in place to assist members of the military with the difficult transition to civilian life.
Reviewed by Mona Bacon