MPs across party lines call for new housing subsidy to help homeless veterans

OTTAWA — 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’s credited with helping to 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.

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 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.

Ellis’s motion, which has backing from Conservative and New Democrat MPs, also calls on the government to end veterans’ homelessness by 2025.

Although the motion doesn’t commit the government to spend money on housing vouchers, Ellis said the American 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 Ellis, chairman of the Commons veterans-affairs committee.

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

“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, CEO 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, 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.”

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