Soldiers Helping Soldiers
Sometimes it takes a soldier to help a soldier.
Soldiers Helping Soldiers is a volunteer group founded by current Canadian soldiers to help homeless veterans.
Their goal is to identify former service men and women who have fallen on hard times and match them up with any veterans benefits and services they might not be claiming, or even aware of.
The challenge is getting the veterans to step forward and accept help. Many suffer from PTSD or other health issues. Some left the military on poor terms.
One former reservist, identified only as Dave, says his world fell apart when his wife and child died in an accident while he was on tour. "I've been looking for help for a while and now I feel happy that I might finally get it," he says.
Captain Victoria Ryan founded Soldiers Helping Soldiers in Ottawa just over a year ago. She says when she and her fellow volunteers arrive at a homeless shelter in uniform former soldiers are more likely to respond. “I believe there is that instant recognition of, we’ve been there. We wear the same uniform. We’ve walked the same walk.”
The problem of homeless veterans is significant. “We have found over 140 homeless veterans,” says Ryan. “We have found 80 of them that were willing to step forward and ask for assistance. And we’ve got approximately 34 off the streets.”
Soldiers Helping Soldiers has partnered with the Ottawa Police Service to visit homeless shelters and reach out to veterans. Ottawa Police Constable Mark Bouwmeester is himself a former reservist. “I thought it was a great opportunity to go out and identify as many veterans as we can and link them up with the appropriate resources,” he says.
Ryan says Soldiers Helping Soldiers is not a charity and is not out to fundraise. One way people can help the cause is to support the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy campaign. The money raised will go towards many of the services and benefits available to homeless veterans.