Tasks remain after Remembrance Day,Steve Desroches, former City Councillor and Deputy Mayor.
Fortunately, this terrible pandemic did not diminish the heart of our commemorative spirit to honour the service and sacrifice of our veterans. Our collective acts of remembrance and support for veterans should not wane or subside after November 11th. I was pleased to see that the Mayor has set up a City Hall task force to bring together a network of local partners to support veterans living in Ottawa who are facing challenges with their transition to civilian life. The dedicated group includes government organizations and veterans champions and service providers. The task force follows an initiative that I led at city hall prior to my departure aimed at strengthening the social safety net for veterans by bringing together a range of front line services and veterans support organizations in Ottawa. It was also very encouraging to see local Minister Lisa MacLeod announce that the Province was strengthening its support for veterans to help transition to civilian life and address homelessness. All levels of government need to work together to support veterans. It should come as no surprise that Ottawa has a large veteran and military population given capital hosts the headquarters of the Navy, Army and Air Force as well as many reserve units including the Foot Guards, Cameron Highlanders and HMCS Carleton. There is proof that collaboration amongst agencies and veterans can achieve results. Local low-income housing provider Multi-Faith Housing has rallied partners to build Canada’s first housing for veterans. The agency recognized early that collaboration and partnership was critical to success. The new building will house 40 homeless or at-risk veterans with access to support services from a variety of partner agencies. The new Veterans House will make available on-site services related to recovery from health, mental health and addiction-related issues. The facility will also include a dog park for service dogs. Sadly, it is estimated that there are some 80 homeless veterans in Ottawa. Fortunately, there is no shortage of inspiring veterans who are volunteering their time to support veterans in need. For example, Canada’s first female infantry officer, Sandra Perron, has been a strong advocate for veterans and she is an inspiration to many. Members of the Royal Canadian Legion are a force of nature and one should never get in their way when they are focused on the task of supporting veterans! Much work remains to be done given that the safety net looks more of a patched quilt covering a range of pressures and needs. The Mayor’s task force can help by marshaling partners that have a front line role in connecting with veterans. For example, social services, first-responders and housing agencies need to help identify veterans in order to connect them with beneficial government and charitable programs. In too many cases veterans do not mention their previous military service. It is a shameful situation when veterans’ programming goes un-used because veterans are not connected with the assistance available to them. The helping hand goes beyond government programs. Where government programs have gaps, veterans organizations have stepped up to help. For example, the Legion will provide financial assistance to serving and former Canadian Armed Forces members, RCMP, and their families who are in financial distress. Financial support is available for food, heating, clothing, prescription medication, medical appliances and equipment, essential home repairs and emergency shelter or assistance. Retired Navy Captain Mark Eldridge let me know that the Solders Helping Soldiers initiative continues full steam to tackle homelessness in Ottawa. There is no shortage of people and organizations who want to help without the hassle of red tape and bureaucracy. Let’s bring them together to produce meaningful results.
Steve Desroches is a former City Councillor and Deputy Mayor. Follow him on Twitter @SteveDesroches