OPERATION: LEAVE THE STREETS BEHIND
To ensure that every Veteran who is homeless or near homeless finds the help they need to leave the streets behind.
In November 2009 Mr. Joe Sweeney, a Korean War Veteran who has dedicated much of his time to assisting homeless persons in the City of Toronto, wanted to organize a Remembrance Day Ceremony to honour the homeless Veterans. With assistance from The Royal Canadian Legion, Ontario Command it was held at the Scott Mission in Toronto. At the conclusion of the ceremony it quickly became evident that there were a number of homeless Veterans within the city and a team made up of personnel from Veterans Affairs Canada and The Royal Canadian Legion, Ontario Command were determined to see what could be done to assist them. This team travelled to Buffalo, New York in January 2010 to review the United States model to end homelessness in Veterans. From this a plan to launch a pilot project in Toronto was formulated.
On September 24th, 2010 a partnership between The Royal Canadian Legion, Ontario Command and Veterans Affairs Canada was announced at the Good Shepherd Ministry in Toronto. In an agreement with the Good Shepherd Ministry and Veterans Affairs, an Outreach Worker has been embedded at the Shelter. This enables the Outreach Worker to gain the trust of the Veteran and to coordinate the type of assistance required with the available resources. With the assistance of Mr. Joe Sweeney, our Homeless Veterans Committee Project Advisor, they have approached other shelters in the downtown core.
When news of the program reached the Ontario Command Legion Branches, they were very eager to assist. A Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund was started at the Provincial Headquarters and the Branches responded with generous donations. With funds raised from the Ladies Auxiliary, "comfort bags" were assembled with personal items such as shampoo, shaving cream, shavers, hats, mitts and socks and distributed to Veterans through the Outreach Worker. With assistance from the Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund, we have been able to permanently house Veterans with assistance for their first / last month's rent, furniture and food vouchers. Rental assistance has also been provided to those facing eviction. Medical assistance has been given to other Veterans such as dental treatments, transportation to stress therapy clinics, eyeglasses and much more.
The Joe Sweeney Fund was created to ensure that these Veterans have suitable housing and/or the support services they require to remain permanently housed and with a stable future. Tax receipts can be issued for this fund.
In early 2012 we partnered with Mainstay Housing to provide ten (10) residential units in a house on Parliament Street and it is now full. The tenants are enjoying a "safe" environment along with the camaraderie that comes with community style living. Now that they have stable housing the focus is on their well being and life skills.
We are currently working with two municipalities outside of the GTA regarding other possible housing projects.
In late 2012 we distributed a training package to our Branch Service Officers across Ontario. With their assistance the program will soon be known to all communities and their local resources such as the "Out of the Cold" program, Food Banks, Churches, Municipal and Provincial Government Offices, local emergency personnel ( Police, Fire, and Ambulance) all asking the same question: " Have you had military service?". The result of their efforts is already tangible as we are fielding many calls to our office regarding the program.