It is estimated that veterans make up approximately 5% of Montreal’s homeless population. These ex-soldiers have survived traumatic experiences that have long-lasting consequences. Homeless and at-risk veterans have unique needs related to chronic health problems, and mental health or addiction issues. The Old Brewery Mission provides support services tailored specifically at veterans to help stabilize their situation and help them rebuild their lives.
A sense of pride and self-sufficiency is common among people who have served in the military. It is difficult for veterans to seek help and to accept it. Many do not use the support services available to them. When they do, it is often when they have reached rock bottom.
According to the Quebec Veterans Federation, 25% of military personnel experience social, family and/or professional difficulties during their transition to civilian life. The process of re-entering society may be hampered by an operational stress injury suffered in the performance of duty, addiction, or lack of recognition and understanding of what they are going through. The combination of these vulnerabilities increases the likelihood of broken relationships, marginalization and homelessness.
In 2017, the Old Brewery Mission created the Sentinels program to help veterans experiencing homelessness access housing. Our counsellors help vets access psychosocial support, find housing and build their capacity to fully integrate into society. In four years, the program has grown from 9 to 20 participants at a time.
Research conducted by the Old Brewery Mission has found that former soldiers have a strong need to belong. They were once part of a community that gave them purpose and their military experience has left its mark. Interventions that give veterans a chance to support other vets are often the most appreciated and most effective.
The Old Brewery Mission believes it is important to develop and maintain services designed specifically for veterans. In Canada, there are a growing number of models geared to getting ex-soldiers off the street and into permanent housing that are proving successful. Professionals who work with veterans also need to be aware of this population’s specific needs. At the same time, the Mission is working to offer veterans a chance to connect their “brothers or sisters in arms” to help them move from isolation to community.