During a week when world leaders gather on the shores of France to recognize the sacrifice of D-day, many veterans here at home are undertaking a desperate struggle.
They are former soldiers with no place to live. It’s an urgent national problem.
Diane Claveau is 56 years old, educated and military trained. She is also homeless, living in her van in the parking lot of a big box store; on the list for subsidized housing and on the hunt for a job.
The day Diane Claveau graduated from the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean with a degree in business administration.
“It was quite the ceremony,” she recalls, (former Governor General) Jeanne Sauvé was there, along with many important people so I felt special that day, yeah.”
These days, Claveau says she feels forgotten, living in her van in the parking lot of a big box store.
“I never thought I would end up living in my van.”
Claveau served in the army for about 8 years until, she says, exposure to tear gas caused health issues that impact her today.
“It’s the pain, all down my leg,” she says, “it’s controlled with medications now that I take.”
She worked much of her life and received some compensation, she says, from Veterans Affairs Canada. She is critical of how Veterans Affairs has handled her case.
Now she relies on Ontario Works for a monthly stipend, along with help from a mobile women's support unit that supplies food and hygiene products.
According to recent statistics, Claveau is one of an estimated 3000 to 5000 veterans across Canada who are homeless. It's a crisis and many organizations say it's a national disgrace.
“I would say this is one of big shames of Canada,” says Suzanne Le, the Executive Director of Multifaith Housing Initiative, “We have failed these people.”
Multifaith Housing is fundraising to build a 40-unit building on the former Rockcliffe Air base that will be exclusively for homeless vets. They hope to start construction this summer.
“We'll be bringing in veterans from shelters, off the streets,” says Le, “We're going to bring them in and meet them where they're at and wrap them with supports and give them what they need to become successful people once again, to be proud of who they are and what they’re doing.”
Each night in Ottawa, between 60 and 80 veterans lack proper housing.
Today, a multi-party committee tabled a motion calling for a federal initiative to end this crisis, asking the government to create a new housing stipend to help thousands of veterans get off the streets.
“It's been brought to my attention that this is solvable,” says Liberal MP for Bay of Quinte Neil Ellis, “and that's why this motion has come now and with all party support, hopefully we can push this across the finish line.”
What Diane Claveau really wants is to work. At 56, she says it's a challenge finding a job, especially when she's homeless.
“I think to me, living is getting up in the morning and go to work, have friends, have a life, a place to stay. Now I'm not living. It's the opposite. Sometimes I feel I'm dying.”
In an email, Veterans Affairs says it can't comment on individual cases - but that it's invested billions in the last few years combatting homelessness among veterans.
“Like all Canadians, we believe veteran homelessness is unacceptable and we must do everything we can to end it. Veterans Affairs Canada has made significant investments in veterans and their families in the last 4 years, totalling over $10 billion.” Veterans Affairs Canada said in its email.