How one Canadian veteran left a homeless, hopeless life behind him
A new program to tackle homelessness among Canada’s veterans has had success in Montreal after helping rehouse 16 former soldiers.
Across the country there are 2,500 homeless veterans, according to Veterans Affairs Canada.
In Quebec’s largest city the Old Brewery Mission says about six per cent of the homeless population there used to serve in the Canadian Forces.
Mario Gagne, 54, says he had reached rock bottom after serving in the army for three years, with no home and nowhere to go.
“I was at the end of the rope, being the way I was raised in the military I was always on guard, I didn’t trust anyone, ” he told CTV Montreal.
“I end up spending my last $72 on a motel room and then the next day I had nothing, I was on the streets.”
A chance encounter with another homeless vet led him to the mission.
Gagne became one of the first participants in a new program to give housing to vets, which also provides physical and mental health care.
The mission has found that veterans are more susceptible to chronic homelessness and have trouble seeking help.
“These are typically people who have left the armed forces maybe a decade ago and they've been on a trajectory downwards ever since,” Matthew Pearce of the Old Brewery Mission told CTV.
“So when they get to our doors they’re in very rough shape, that means they have addictions, many of them suffer from mental illness. They have a heck of a time adjusting to civilian life from the framed and controlled military life they've become accustomed to.”
The shelter turned to Veterans Emergency Transition Services Canada, a Halifax-based group specializing in helping at-risk veterans, that aims to break down feelings of shame and solitude.
“Veterans want to talk to somebody who understands them, so when they're dealing with organizations that are veteran specific then I think they feel a little bit more comfortable in opening up,” said Debbie Lowther from VETS Canada.
Gagne is the first participant to move out of Montreal and start a life on his own again.
Back on his feet and standing proud as a Canadian veteran he now lives in Trois-Rivieres, where he has taken up painting again with the hope of going to university one day.
“There's still hope. Even though I was in that situation they helped me out and they supported me,” Gagne said.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Kelly Greig