Remembrance Day recognizes the sacrifices of people in all armed conflicts. Yet, while men and women gather at cenotaphs across the country to honour those who have served, few Canadians may know of the veterans who gather at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
It isn’t known exactly how many veterans of war are living on the streets in Canada, but the estimated number is in the thousands. Some experts say they are homeless for the same reasons as everyone else, others argue that veterans face particular challenges that make them more vulnerable.
Wayne, 64, currently resides at The Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope in Calgary. “This place has helped me and others out over the years,” says Wayne. “The Army gives me a hand up rather than a hand out.” The former military communications specialist believes veterans have the right to live their life with the same dignity they enjoyed while serving.
At age 16, Wayne enlisted in the Canadian Army. “I chose the military to get away from home,” says Wayne. “Society says we know what we are getting into when we enlist, but reality is that we don’t what we are getting into, other than a military uniform.”
For months at a time Wayne was far away in dangerous places. Since he fought he has done his best to forget the fear of being under fire, the guilt of killing to protect himself and the sleepless nights that lead to more stress. “Sometimes in the solitude and darkness of night I ask myself ‘why did I join?’
“The transition from military to civilian life was difficult,” says Wayne. “I came back with baggage. Little support was available for me to make a healthy transition and it isn’t easy for veterans to ask for help. We are used to being self-reliant. My way of dealing with things was solitude. I didn’t want anyone around me, especially family. You can’t talk to someone who has never seen horrible things or been in horrible places—they just don’t understand.
“Veterans carry huge burdens all our lives as a result of the multiple stresses of battle. Canada’s goal should be to ensure all veterans receive the services and benefits they need to live a fulfilling life. Warriors should come back from combat with proper support.”
Wayne’s life has taken many difficult twists and turns. Among them are marital breakdowns, job loss and prison reform. “I can’t blame the military for all of them,” says Wayne.
While reflecting on his own life Wayne has deep concerns for the veterans returning from Afghanistan who will slip through the cracks. “Afghanistan is a very bad place to be for any soldier,” says Wayne. “Sometimes conflicts are forgotten by everyone but veterans and their families.”