Left We For­get

24 Hours Vancouver - - NEWS - MARK BONOKOSKI

On the eve of Re­mem­brance Day, we will be­gin to see more of them as the days and nights grow colder and heat vents along our cities’ side­walks be­come homes for the home­less.

We will largely walk around them, of course, per­haps look down upon them piti­fully, but oth­er­wise, take scant no­tice.

As Christ­mas nears, we might even slip them a few coins, more for our own peace of mind than theirs.

Theirs will be trou­bled.

Was that one a vet­eran of our armed forces? The one ly­ing on a piece of card­board and wrapped in a dirty sleep­ing bag?

Per­haps. Ac­cord­ing to Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Canada, a study back in 2014 al­ready had 750 of our na­tion’s sol­diers iden­ti­fied as home­less.

So­ci­ol­o­gists and so­cial work­ers of­ten call it hit­ting the bot­tom, with the big­gest de­ter­mi­nant be­ing the men­tal wound­ing of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, of­ten aided and abet­ted by the es­cape routes of­fered by al­co­hol and sub­stance abuse.

And then, the most fi­nal es­cape route of all: Sui­cide.

Too many of our vet­er­ans from Afghanistan and other mis­sions have taken this route, some 31 to date.

Up on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ot­tawa, some­where in a stor­age room, there is a bronze re­lief sculp­ture of a for­mer MP named Sa­muel Sharpe who, as a sit­ting mem­ber of the House of Com­mons, left to lead his troops in Pass­chen­daele, one of the blood­i­est bat­tles of the First World War, where he earned an award for gal­lantry as 16,000 Cana­dian sol­diers around him ei­ther died or were wounded.

But that sculp­ture too, is home­less.

Sharpe, a lieu­tenant-colonel in the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force’s 11th bat­tal­ion, never re­turned to the Com­mons.

In­stead, on May 25, 1918, he pur­posely jumped from the win­dow of the Royal Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal in Mon­treal and killed him­self.

They called it “ner­vous shock” back then, not PTSD.

Re­tired Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dal­laire, whose ex­pe­ri­ences in Rwanda trig­gered his own bat­tle with PTSD, said he has heard whis­pers from ad­vi­sory group mem­bers at DND that Sharpe’s plaque will some­how glo­rify sui­cide, and there­fore ques­tioned plac­ing it any­where near a statue of Lt.-Col. Ge­orge Baker, the only MP killed in com­bat.

“But putting a commemoration plaque not far from Baker’s is to rec­og­nize that they don’t all die on the bat­tle­field,” said Dal­laire. “A bunch of them die at home from in­juries on the bat­tle­field.

“And it should not be hid­den away.”

In an in­ter­view with Cana­dian Press, the head of VETS Canada, Jim Lowther, ques­tioned the gov­ern­ment’s ur­gency on the is­sue of home­less­ness among Cana­dian vet­er­ans — cit­ing long time­lines for im­ple­men­ta­tion, and the lack of an ag­gres­sive ap­proach in com­par­i­son with the United States, where home­less­ness among its vets has been re­duced 50% over the last five years.

“We still have peo­ple that will say I can’t be­lieve there are home­less vet­er­ans in Canada,” said Lowther.

“I think if they knew (how much our vet­er­ans) are suf­fer­ing that they would want some­thing done about it.”

The Trudeau Lib­er­als, mean­while, have been promis­ing to re­lease their lon­gawaited strat­egy on vet­eran’s home­less­ness at any minute, but it has pro­ceeded at a snail’s pace to date.

The 2017 bud­get ear­marked $4 mil­lion over four years for emer­gency hous­ing for vets and, al­though deemed “ready to go,” it will not see any money rolled out un­til April next year.

By then, an­other Christ­mas will have come and gone and, with it, an­other long win­ter where homes have been grates on side­walks.

Lest we for­get, as an­other Re­mem­brance Day beck­ons.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.