Straight Talk
SIMON KENT - Growing number of military vets living on the streets

Homeless people bundle up on the streets of Toronto



TORONTO - This should not be how a grateful nation says thank you.

Buried deep within the detail of the City of Toronto's 2013 interim report on homelessness is a single startling fact.

Around 16% of those living rough on the streets of Canada's biggest city said they had served in the Canadian military.

That's right. Almost one in six self-identify as military veterans yet they make their home on the sidewalk or under a bridge.

This is something that should shock all Canadians.

Nobody is forced to serve in our all-volunteer navy, army and air force. People choose to don our military uniform and prepare to defend Canada from her enemies at home and abroad at considerable personal sacrifice.

Be it in the skies over Libya or the mountains of Afghanistan, in recent years more and more military personnel have gone into harm's way for Canada and freedom.

Then there are those who also stand and serve without leaving the country but are essential nonetheless.

The findings of the Toronto survey roughly align with a national study released two weeks ago by Western University.

It found that Canadian Forces veterans, who at one time served and protected their country, are now facing one of the toughest battles of their lives - homelessness.

Prior research on the subject, which has primarily originated in the US, presents the scenario of homeless veterans who witnessed trauma while deployed overseas and have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can't adjust when they get home.

But research with Canadian homeless veterans shows a whole different set of causes.

"For a lot of them it was from drinking, which started in the military, escalated over time and 10 years later you would see the alcoholism, and through that they would lose their job, their relationships, their housing," said assistant nursing professor Susan Ray, a co-author of the Western University study.

Many speak about the difficulty in adjusting to an unstructured civilian life and the lack of supports they received in moving from the military to the civilian.

No matter the reason or the causes, the fact that increasing numbers of our former military personnel face a life of homeless desperation should shame us all.

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