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February 23, 2024
Learning from the Lived Experience of Veterans

In collaboration with our friends at Green Violin, we are working on an innovation lab supported by CMHC, known as The Veterans Village Housing Lab. The intent of the lab is to discover innovative, cost-effective housing solutions that delve into mental health issues, affordable financing and the concept of communal living for Veterans who have served in the Canadian military, police, or first responder organizations. The ultimate goal of the Veterans Village Housing Lab is to devise solutions that facilitate the transition of Veterans in Edmonton into stable housing and employment, with the potential to extend these solutions to meet the needs of Veterans across Canada.

As part of our initial steps towards uncovering new housing solutions for Veterans, we have engaged with a diverse group of Veterans. This group includes individuals with firsthand experience in affordable housing initiatives for Veterans and those who have faced homelessness themselves. By understanding the unique lived experiences of Veterans transitioning from military to civilian life, including their struggles in securing affordable housing, we aim to co-create and test meaningful solutions. Our objective is not only to address these challenges but also to highlight the importance of tackling complex issues deeply rooted in community members' unique experiences. We are keen on sharing our findings to enhance the understanding of the obstacles Veterans encounter post-service and to emphasize the necessity of exploring these intricate challenges.

Veterans are significantly overrepresented among the homeless population in Canada, with an estimated 617,800 Veterans making up about 1.7% of the national population. Recent counts reveal that up to 7% of Albertans experiencing homelessness have a military background. These Veterans, who are generally older and predominantly male, often cite illness or medical conditions as factors leading to their housing instability. By exploring innovative housing solutions tailored to the specific needs of Veterans, we can not only help reduce homelessness among this group but also provide them with opportunities to build equity and, by extension, offer housing solutions that could benefit other Canadians.

Providing appropriate housing solutions for Veterans involves a complex understanding of the experiences and needs of Veterans, services that can support them and the community context where housing would exist.

What do we mean by transitioning from the Canadian Armed Forces?

Approximately 9,000 individuals leave the Canadian military every year to re-enter civilian life, undergoing a significant transition. This transition is unique to each Veteran, involving more than just a career change; it's a total shift in lifestyle and identity. Moving to a less structured civilian life can be daunting, especially for those who have been on active duty or lived on military bases.

Despite the individual challenges each Veteran faces, their fundamental needs mirror those of civilians: secure housing, stable employment, and access to support services. Yet, Veterans often seek these essentials while also coping with the aftermath of service-related trauma and adjusting to a new identity.

To address these needs, the Canadian Armed Forces established a Transition Group in 2019. This group focuses on providing tailored, professional support for service members and their families during their transition. It aims to ensure a smooth changeover and improved well-being, paying particular attention to those who are ill, injured, and the bereaved families.

Housing is a critical aspect of this transition, encompassing not just the physical condition of the home but also its social and environmental context. This includes repair state, accessibility, and safety, as well as the house's location relative to essential services like schools and healthcare.

Poor housing conditions can have a detrimental impact on health. Veterans face the risk of homelessness or precarious housing due to both personal challenges and systemic issues. The quality of housing, air, and community design significantly affects physical and mental health.

Finding a safe, comfortable, and affordable home is pivotal for Veterans transitioning to civilian life. A stable address not only facilitates the search for employment but also supports overall well-being, emphasizing the importance of access to suitable housing.

“It's not just a job, it’s a unique identity, both for the Veteran and their family.”
  • Anonymous Veterans Service Provider 

Access to Health Care and Support Services for Veterans

Veterans have access to high-quality medical services with minimal wait times, right on base during military service. Once leaving active service, a major obstacle for Veterans seeking healthcare is the difficulty in accessing primary care. Often, veterans need to travel significant distances to reach medical facilities, which can be exhausting, costly, and time-consuming. Furthermore, once they get there, they might face lengthy waits for appointments, resulting in delayed treatments and a higher chance of health complications. This situation calls for a fundamental change in how veterans obtain healthcare services.

The shift to provincial healthcare systems can be daunting for Veterans accustomed to the military's medical support. Searching for a family doctor or securing mental and physical health support can be overwhelming, especially for those with complex health needs. This transition can leave gaps in care, particularly affecting veterans requiring continuous mental health support for conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Additionally, Veterans dealing with addiction face obstacles in finding specialized services, hindering their path to recovery and rehabilitation.

Finding Employment

Nearly one-third of Veterans fall within the prime working age range of 25 to 54 years. Once housing is secured, finding employment is crucial for Veterans aiming for stability and a successful transition to civilian life. Military service equips Veterans with unique and diverse skills, making them valuable contributors to the workforce and their communities. However, some Veterans seek careers unrelated to their military background, and others find it challenging to translate their military roles into civilian job markets. Additional obstacles to employment include injuries, mental health concerns, and adjusting from the military's structured environment to a civilian workplace.

Our research shows that most Veterans are eager to establish a regular work routine after service. They often need help applying for jobs and translating military skills to civilian roles. This support might involve resume writing and identifying how military-acquired skills like leadership, organization, teamwork, and motivation can apply to various civilian roles. During lab explorations, construction and rail authorities have been identified as promising employment environments that match the experience of veterans.

Veterans Experiencing Homelessness

Despite the existence of numerous systems and organizations designed to assist those in their transition to civilian life, homelessness remains a significant issue among Veterans each year. Access to stable, permanent and suitable housing is critical for beginning a Veteran's journey to a healthy civilian life. Housing plays a vital role in supporting mental health and occupies a significant portion of a Veteran's daily concerns. These individuals, who have sacrificed for our country, often face the uncertainty of not having a place to sleep.

Securing housing for Veterans crucially depends on the specific funding allocated for their housing needs. This becomes particularly important when housing providers give priority to certain groups, like younger Veterans, or base eligibility on the Veterans' readiness and compliance with certain criteria. Matching Veterans with the appropriate housing and support services presents challenges, leading to uncertainties about the fit between the clients and the programs offered.

Additionally, there is a pressing need for housing that is both affordable and free of barriers for Veterans discharged due to medical reasons. Balancing affordability with the need for accessible housing proves challenging, especially in urban settings where such options may be limited.

Veteran Culture and Community Connection

Creating a Veteran-friendly culture in housing complexes for veterans is essential to support reintegration in light of the challenges described above. Such environments offer crucial support by acknowledging and addressing veterans' specific needs, thus enhancing their overall well-being and success. A Veteran-friendly culture can build camaraderie, offer peer support, provide assistance during the transition, and ensure veterans have access to specialized services. This approach empowers veterans to navigate and surmount post-service challenges and fosters a sense of pride and purpose. Creating an atmosphere where veterans feel appreciated and can contribute to their communities is vital for their successful reintegration.

Moreover, involving the community in developing new housing projects is key. This involvement showcases Veterans' unique skills as invaluable to any community and demonstrates how diverse residents and community members contribute to a stronger, more resilient social fabric. Successful integration of Veterans into affordable housing projects hinges on fostering a sense of connection and belonging within a single building and throughout entire neighbourhoods.

Looking Forward

The Veterans Village Housing Lab represents a collective effort by a diverse team of dedicated people and organizations, all working together to tackle the intricate housing challenges for Veterans facing homelessness in Edmonton. We are in the process of crafting a roadmap informed by our findings, aimed at offering actionable insights, strategies and solutions that can be adapted to enhance Veteran housing initiatives nationwide. If you are intrigued and want to learn, please reach out to us at