Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for the invitation to participate in your deliberations.
I'd like to thank you for the work you're doing to shine a light on all aspects of transition. Through you, I'd also like to thank those who have testified before, including Alannah, and have lived a transition life experience, who lift up those in transition, and who are there to support those who struggle with transition. There are many ways to serve, indeed, and serving those who serve is one of them. Through you, I thank them all.
I'm here representing one of many much-needed organizations that serve the needs of homeless veterans, in this case Soldiers Helping Soldiers. It's an all-volunteer organization established in Ottawa in 2012. Its mission is to aid in recognizing and identifying homeless veterans, connecting with them, and connecting them to service providers who can help them—reducing the risk, mitigating the effects, and supporting a recovery from homelessness.
It's a team effort with a diverse ecosystem—one we work with to achieve real progress for individual veterans. We have five years of experience of SHS in Ottawa, and we have concluded that the model is valuable enough to establish—it was recently incorporated in October of last year as a not-for-profit—and expand to other population centres across Canada as a not-for-profit, but not a charity. SHS looks to work in other population centres to add to the inventory of volunteers and community service providers who can make a difference for veterans where we find them as homeless.
I'm not here to tell an SHS story. I'd just like to offer some quick insights and perspectives to inform your deliberations on helping those who are homeless and how we can make a difference in their lives.
The first is that the numbers who find themselves homeless are more than we would have believed or assumed to be the case. Working with communities to get to the numbers of those citizens who are homeless, and among them to those who are veterans, is an important undertaking to be pursued. Cities and municipalities lead in those efforts, and identifying veterans among them is an important effort of which we should be supportive.
Number two, veterans need to see themselves as vets. It's amazing how many veterans say, “I'm not a vet, because I didn't deploy. I didn't serve. I was only a reservist. I was in the Canadian Rangers.” The policy definition is clear, but there's a cultural definition and understanding that needs to be overcome. With those who are homeless, the question we ask them isn't, “Are you a vet?” The question we ask them is, “Did you wear a uniform?” If the answer if yes, then you're a member of the family.
Third, it takes a village. When prevention fails, the efforts to mitigate and remediate the factors that lead to and aggravate homelessness are many, and they come from many, so it takes many hands, including individuals from organizations. Let me give you a long list: shelters, addiction centres, harm reduction, mental health, financial, identity, Housing First, food banks, physical rehab, vocational training, and case management. Helping someone recover from homelessness is not an effort of an individual organization. It really takes a village.
It takes a whole community, and providing platforms to bring a community together, to get to know a community and who's helping whom, and to allow each other to leverage each other's offerings is definitely an effort that merits investment by communities, citizen organizations, and volunteer organizations, as well as government. You can see the utility of collaboration over competition in this space being very powerful, including in your own ridings, for example.
Last, I'll conclude with this. A difference can be made in the lives of those veterans in distress who find themselves homeless. More difference can be made, and I have to tell you it's gratifying to see people who participate in making a difference in people's lives, especially among our homeless. It makes a difference in their lives. As we learn more, we can care more. If we care more, we can mobilize more—in particular volunteers—and if we collaborate more, we can achieve more together.
Chair, those are my opening remarks.