Diane Claveau served her country for eight years, but living out of her van makes her feel forgotten.
Despite her sacrifice, she is one of thousands of homeless Canadian military veterans.
“I never thought I would end up living in my van,” she told CTV Ottawa, describing how she spends her days in the parking lot of a big box store.
“To me, living is getting up in the morning and go to work, have friends, have a life, a place to stay. Now, I’m not living,” she said. “It’s the opposite. Sometimes, I feel I’m dying.”
Claveau is currently on the waitlist for subsidized housing and trying to land a job — all despite health issues she said began during her service.
But the 56-year-old is not alone. At least 60 to 80 veterans in Ottawa lack proper housing.
Several organizations and critics call this a crisis and a national disgrace.
‘BIG SHAMES OF CANADA’: HOMELESSNESS ADVOCATE
“I would say this is one of big shames of Canada,” Suzanne Le, the Executive Director of Multifaith Housing Initiative, told CTV Ottawa. “We have failed these people.”
Claveau agreed. She now relies on Ontario Works for a monthly stipend, along with help from a mobile women’s support unit that supplies food and hygiene products.
She said the only reason she stopped serving in the military was her exposure to tear gas that still affects her today.
“It’s the pain, all down my leg,” she says, “It’s controlled with medications now that I take.”
She holds a degree in business administration and fondly remembers her graduation at Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Que.
“It was quite the ceremony,” she recalls. “[former Governor General] Jeanne Sauvé was there, along with many important people so I felt special that day,” she recalls.
Claveau said she’s received some compensation from Veterans Affairs Canada but she’s critical of how the department has handled her case.
In an email, a spokesperson said the department couldn’t comment on individual cases but stressed it’s invested billions in the last few years combatting homelessness among veterans.
“Like all Canadians, we believe veteran homelessness is unacceptable and we must do everything we can to end it. Veterans Affairs Canada has made significant investments in veterans and their families in the last four years, totalling over $10 billion,” the email stated.
VETS ‘LITERALLY BEING KICKED TO THE CURB’: ADVOCATE
But latest government data suggest 2,250 veterans still use homeless shelters every year.
On Wednesday, a multi-party committee tabled a motion calling for a federal initiative to create a new housing stipend and help end veteran homelessness by 2025.
Preferential hiring practices and pension for veterans aren’t enough, particularly when it comes to former service members from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the CEO of Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness argued.
Tim Richter told CTV’s Power Play these veterans are “falling through pretty big gaps in our homeless services and our veterans’ services, specifically in their ability to pay the rent.”
As an advocate for the past 10 years, he said the issue has been “pretty frustrating,” particularly after different governments promise help but fail to adequately deliver.
But he feels hope that latest motion takes into account issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and proven techniques to tackle homelessness overall.
“The difference now is that we have a national housing strategy, in the past, we haven’t,” he said, adding that 2025 is an achievable target if the money is allocated differently and better implemented through the Canadian Housing Benefit.
“Canadians aren’t going to accept that [thousands] of veterans in this country are literally being kicked to the curb,” he said.