Ex-ombudsman ‘gobsmacked’ homeless issue took five years
Pat Stogran, Canada’s first veterans ombudsman, vividly recalls being hauled into the minister’s office one day in late 2008, where an angry, red-faced Greg Thompson — the veterans minister of the day — upbraided him for making public the issue of homelessness among ex-soldiers.
It was not an issue, Thompson allegedly told the extra infantry colonel, who had been selected for the watchdog post by a Conservative government eager to demonstrate that it was the best friend of the troops.
The encounter, chronicled in Stogran’s book Rude Awakening: The Government’s Secret War Against Canada’s Veterans, was the beginning of the end of the rapport they’d enjoyed. And it eventually led to the Harper government not renewing Stogran’s position in 2010.
Stogran says he tried unsuccessfully throughout his mandate to get the former Conservative government to recognize that homelessness among ex-soldiers was not only an issue, but a growing concern.
“They weren’t going to do anything unless they got hit in the head with a hammer,” said Stogran, who indicated the reluctance to acknowledge the problem extended to the veterans department as well.
What got him in trouble was the high-profile visits he made to homeless shelters across the country, where in 2009 — despite being chewed out — he began asking staff to collect data on whether shelter residents had any military service.
That data didn’t make its way into the national registry in a co-ordinated way for five years.
“I’m gob-smacked it took until 2014 for them to actually pick up on it,” Stogran said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Last week, Employment and Social Development Canada released a report to The Canadian Press that estimates 2,250 former soldiers — about 2.7 per cent of the total homeless population — use shelters on a regular basis.
Some groups, such as the Royal Canadian Legion, say they believe the estimate is too low and point to the fact that a Legion outreach program has dealt with 425 homeless ex-soldiers in Ontario alone since 2009.