Thank you, Brenda.
These studies that Brenda cites, to the sergeant's message, just sound like more words, and yet they're necessary for us to get a better understanding. We still have a problem with homeless veterans despite all the efforts, and, as you say, all the words and fancy language.
There are other problems. Of course, there's data-informed policy, research to understand the scope and the nature of the problem. The specific issues that were raised by the sergeant aren't unique to the sergeant. He would attest to the fact that very many of his peers have faced that mountain of paperwork. Despite the fact there are many people who seem to be out there to help, access to them is quite restricted, and as he points out so well, in rural areas it's nearly impossible.
The challenges faced by the homeless in shelters are a whole other issue, just in identifying them, understanding the military culture and how to approach them, securing financial support and housing, and providing psychosocial supports. A shortage of physicians in some areas, and the relationship that non-VAC physicians have with VAC in trying to get things done by the latter, and the duplication of effort, are just tragic. There are significant and seemingly endless administrative hurdles in front of our veterans, who, as the sergeant pointed out, aren't equipped emotionally to deal with the frustrations.
What's worse, from my perspective, as that we estimate there are nearly 2,000 organizations across the country that are actively trying to support our veterans. When I started the Respect Forum in 2015, my brigade commander said there were too many of us. He thought a dozen was too many. In my first meeting there were over 48 organizations that were present. The problem they face is that they don't know about each other and don't know how to work with each other, to the point where collaboration that would seem to us to be obvious is just not happening.
The consequence of such a dysfunctional state of affairs is being experienced by our veterans and their families, who are falling through the cracks. It doesn't need to be this way at all. In light of what you've attempted to do and the accomplishments made, there's a wider landscape of uncharted services that provide support to you and to our veterans. My question is, what can Veterans Affairs do to enhance its role vis-à-vis these many organizations serving veterans?
We propose an answer. First, we think that VAC should keep doing what it's doing well. There are many veterans who are very pleased to get a pension cheque thanks to you, and your administration of their pension can't go unnoticed, but the need to streamline the claims approval process for known issues and access to emergency funding are pretty obvious. Beside me we have a veteran who served us all, and we're not helping him.
I think it was a very strong move to support community programs with your veterans' well-being fund. I'd suggest you consider adding to and expanding it. With every dollar that you spend reaching out to community organizations, there are other people who match that funding and who outperform. You get much more for your money; you're stretching every dollar.
I think you can continue to leverage your stakeholders through even better outreach, through your conferences and other supporting systems. I think you have to continue to work harder at the retraining and reintegration of veterans.
I believe the second and most important part of the answer is leadership. The leadership that VAC can bring to many organizations providing services to veterans, I don't think can be underestimated. To this end, VAC could support initiatives that help to locate and make better use of data sets so that we can better understand veteran homelessness, from the municipal point-in-time counts, HIFIS—homeless individuals family information systems—and studies that map the service environment for our veterans: who's doing what, how and when, and where they get funded. You can promote more collaboration and the leveraging of resources and expertise.
I know for a fact that if you approach someone in Calgary, sir, you'd get all the support you needed to fill out those forms, hand over fist, from the Legion.
It's not happening in his area, and that shouldn't be the case.
Veterans Affairs could promote the sharing of formal and informal experiential knowledge between service organizations and researchers; research collaborations; innovative approaches to service delivery; the creation of tools that help service providers to better deliver their services; research that maps and measures the business models and the impact of those models to service providers. And you can help us to deliver more expansive and practical job transition training and support.
With this in mind, I would now like to tell you about the Respect Forums, if you haven't heard about them. The Respect Forum is a national networking initiative that strives to help improve the services for Canada's military veterans, retired first responders—police, firefighters, paramedics—and their families. If you wore a uniform and you ran into danger, we want to be there to help you.
We want to help them in their fight against the phenomena that you referred to as PTSD and homelessness, which can result ultimately in the tragedy of suicide.
The Respect Forum meetings are designed to promote collaborative approaches to service delivery, knowledge sharing and knowledge development. Forum meetings bring people together from health, social services, all levels of government, universities and community and peer support organizations. Participants have the opportunity to talk about their organizations, the services they provide, the challenges they face and the research and community engagement activities they're undertaking. This paves the way to explore possibilities for collaboration.
I started them in Montreal, and they are by invitation only. The reason they're by invitation only is that not all of these organizations actually want to work together, and some denigrate each other. When they do that, we disinvite them to future meetings. Our attempt is to create a collaborative environment, one that promotes working together, not nasty, critical sessions—you can fill in the words.
With the support of Veterans Affairs and the family well-being fund, we were able to move from seven cities—in which we were being funded privately—to 19 cities across Canada. By the second week of April, we will have held 19 sessions across the country. Some are in small towns like North Bay and places like Thunder Bay, as well.
The Respect Forum is an initiative of the Respect Campaign. It's a completely civilian project. Without going into it, I'll just tell you that there is permission to play. You don't come to the meeting unless you're prepared to respect each other. You don't come to these meetings unless you're prepared to share knowledge and the contacts that you might have. We don't just want not-for-profit. We're looking for commercial partners as well. They have something to provide in the way of solutions. We want different perspectives. The meetings are all non-partisan.
What we're doing, very practically, is running two meetings a year—one in the spring and one in the fall—across these 19 towns. That's our intent. We're going to be surveying them to find out what the gaps are and where we can better support them in the exchange of knowledge. By the end of the year I'd like to be able to present a map, and I think it will be of nearly 2,000 organizations across the country, so that in each brigade people know who is doing what, how and when, and we can facilitate better collaboration. I think if we're able to establish a collaborative environment, sustainable governance and an enduring financial model, we'll be able to be a part of the solution that's so desperately needed.
Thank you very much.