Homelessness is often seen as an urban problem, and the issue of homeless veterans usually gets the same consideration. However, the problem exists in smaller communities as well. Royal Canadian Legion Branch 423 in Alexandria has been paying special attention to the issue for a couple of years.
This year, all the proceeds from Legion Week events (September 14 to 22) go to the Royal Canadian Legion’s Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund which supports programs administered by the Legion’s provincial command that help veterans who are homeless or at the risk of becoming homeless due to circumstances beyond their control. Marius Bauer, who oversees public relations for the branch, says he is not aware of any homeless veterans in the local community, but emphasized it’s no reason not to support the program that helps them in other places.
“If you’ve done your bit for the country and you come back, you shouldn’t be homeless,” said Bauer. “Veterans are important. For us, it’s a good cause,” he added. Branch 423 gives $5,000 each year to the Canadian Army Vets poker run. It’s an annual motorcycle event run by a motorcycle club where all the members are Canadian Army veterans. The proceeds from the event go to the Legion’s Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund. For the past two years, proceeds from the Alexandria branch’s Legion Week golf tournament have also gone to the fund. Bauer said the event raised $800 last year, but will be higher this year because proceeds from other events during the week, and from the 50/50 draw and donation jar are going to the fund, too. The branch has become so committed to fundraising for homeless veterans is because past branch president Patrick Golding thought it was an important issue and made it a priority, and the practice has continued, according to Bauer.
Even though there is minimal need to assist homeless veterans in Alexandria, there are veterans who are homeless or at the risk of being homeless in this part of Ontario. Royal Canadian Legion Zone “G4” includes Legion branches in Hawkesbury, Alexandria, Lancaster, Long Sault, and Finch. Pete Duncan, the Ontario Command Zone G4 Veterans Service Officer, said the Homeless Veterans Assistance Program has helped five veterans in the area so far in 2018 and has provided $8,129 in financial support.
The Homeless Veterans Assistance Program is part of the Legion’s Operation: Leave the Streets Behind project. Financial assistance can be provided to Canadian veterans of all ages and their families and to ex-armed forces members from all Commonwealth and Allied countries who live in Canada. The program is designed to help veterans of all ages and service experiences who are already homeless or are at the risk of becoming homeless. That means that financial assistance can be provided to cover first and last month’s rent, or unpaid rent. It will also cover the cost certain medical and dental expenses, eyeglasses and transportation to medical appointments. In some cases, moving expenses, basic furnishings, utility bills, and even food and shelter are paid for when necessary.
The Royal Canadian Legion provides the service in partnership with Veterans Affairs Canada. The Legion’s Command Service Officers with the Legion Service Bureau represent the interests of veterans, who include all serving and retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP. There is no age limit. Pete Duncan said they have assisted veterans ranging in age from their twenties to their nineties. Service Officers are required by law to assist veterans free of charge, even if the veteran needing help is not a member of the Royal Canadian Legion.