Skip to main content

Politics MPs across party lines call for new housing subsidy to help homeless veterans on eve of D-Day anniversary

Liberal MP Neil Ellis, at the microphone, is joined by Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall, left, NDP MP Sheri Benson, second from right, and members of advocacy groups during an Ottawa news conference to address a motion he filed calling on the federal government to set a goal of ending veteran homelessness with a plan and deadlines on June 5, 2019.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

A cross-party group of MPs, flanked by organizations that help veterans in need, made a plea on the eve of the 75th anniversary of D-Day for the government to end veteran homelessness and create a special housing stipend as a key first step.

The motion from Ontario Liberal MP Neil Ellis asks his own government to create a subsidy similar to one in the United States that has been credited with helping cut in half the number of homeless American veterans, and could get thousands of veterans off Canadian streets.

Veterans Affairs Canada recommended something similar in early drafts of its strategy for helping homeless vets, noting that a rent-assistance program would help veterans quickly find permanent housing wherever they live.

Story continues below advertisement

The department wasn’t authorized at the time to provide that kind of financial help because any aid had to be related to a veteran’s time in the military, but Mr. Ellis and other MPs now see a path to make it happen through the decade-long national housing strategy, which includes the prospect of rent supplements.

Accurate data about the number of homeless veterans in Canada remains elusive, but various studies peg the number between 3,000 and 5,000 – possibly more, since homeless counts and shelter studies rely on veterans to self-identify – with about 10 per cent of those being women.

Mr. Ellis’s motion, which has backing from Conservative and New Democrat MPs, also calls on the government to end veterans’ homelessness by 2025 and deliver a plan to do so by this time next year.

Although the motion doesn’t commit the government to spend money on housing vouchers, Mr. Ellis said the U.S. model should be considered for a Canadian plan.

“If we can cut our numbers from 5,000 down to 2,500 down to zero, we’ve got to look at how it’s been done in other countries,” said Mr. Ellis, chairman of the House of Commons standing committee on veterans affairs.

The Liberals’ 10-year, $55-billion national housing strategy includes $2-billion in federal spending, with matching funding from provinces and territories, to create a housing benefit the government expects to help 300,000 households across the country.

Advocates suggest that a special stipend for veterans, which would only require federal cash, would be a fraction of the larger benefit.

Story continues below advertisement

“The number of homeless veterans in Canada is relatively small. We know what to do and we know how to do it,” said Tim Richter, chief executive of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. “We have a duty to these men and women. Veterans’ homelessness is a solvable issue. Let’s get on with it.”

Adam Vaughan, the parliamentary secretary to the minister overseeing the housing strategy, said the government modified portions of the program to deal with specific gaps that have let veterans slip through the cracks, including working across departmental lines to target specific populations.

The motion, he said, is “consistent with everything the government is doing” in trying to provide housing and services for those in need.

Veterans groups have been waiting for a dedicated strategy for more than a decade, despite multiple drafts circulated in Veterans Affairs Canada since at least 2017. In April, Mr. Ellis’s committee released a report that asked the government to “create a rent supplement for veterans who are homeless” as part of a broad action plan.

“Our governments past and present have spent a lot of time and money on studies. So have other countries. We have a lot of knowledge,” said Ray McInnis, director of veterans services with the Royal Canadian Legion. “Our priority now needs to be a clear plan, full of evidence-based actions.”

Debbie Lowther, chair and co-founder of VETS Canada, which helps homeless veterans in different cities, said having cross-party support for “a good solid plan” is a great first step.

Story continues below advertisement

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter