VETS Canada takes to streets in search of homeless veterans

Dozens of volunteers hit the streets of Ottawa Saturday with a goal of getting service men and women back on their feet permanently.

"One person is too many, but unfortunately there are a lot more than that," said Robert Praet, a volunteer with VETS Canada. 

Praet knows first hand what kind of a difference VETS Canada, or Veterans Emergency Transition Services can make. After losing his Calgary apartment during the floods of 2013, then being priced out of town Praet found himself living at the Salvation Army on Booth Street. A worker put him in touch with VETS Canada and two days later, he was in a hotel and was getting an apartment. 

"If you are on the streets, the hardest thing is to get into a house. You need first and last month's rent and money for electricity," he said. "They gave that to me." 

Now, more than two years later, Praet is a housing coordinator for VETS Canada in Ottawa. It's his job to find housing for veterans in crisis. 

"When you are military, you are military," he said. "This family, they don't come any better .. we believe in the motto of nobody left behind." 

On Saturday, Praet lead a team through the market looking for service men and women in need of assistance. 

"It feels good to help someone else," he said. 

At last update, the federal government was aware of at lest 770 homeless veterans. VETS Canada believes there are as many as 10,000 people hiding in the shadows, waiting for assistance. The volunteer run organization has already helped 4,000 veterans since it launched in 2010. 

"It's a big problem across the country," said co-founder Jim Lowther. "But we are doing the best we can do to end veterans homelessness." 

The volunteer-run organization acts as a sort of intermediary, helping veterans get back on track. Once a veteran is identified, he or she is immediately put up into a hotel, then assigned a volunteer who helps the individual find a job, community service, a rental unit and or services available through other organizations like the local legion or Veterans Affairs.

"We are here to give them a hand up," said Lowther. "We will help with rent, with a mortgage, grocery cards, gas cards, anything we can think of to help them get back on their feet."

Regardless of whether a veteran is found on the monthly walkabouts, volunteers said every chance to hit the streets is an opportunity to connect with the community and to shed light on an important issue. 

VETS Canada does monthly walks in cities across Canada. On Saturday, walks took place in 21 cities.