Homeless Veteran on bench (Photo Courtesy of The Royal Canadian Legion via Facebook)

“What do you need?”

That’s the very first question Dave Gordon and the staff at Leave The Streets Behind ask of the homeless veterans they assist each year.

Gordon is the Chairman of Veteran’s Senior Services for the Royal Ontario Legion, and he has been involved with the Leave The Streets Behind program since its inception, in 2009.

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Founded by Korean War veteran Joe Sweeney, the Leave The Streets Behind program strives to ensure that Canadian military vets who are homeless or near homeless get the help they need to find housing stability.

“Early on, I saw a World War II vet who lost all of his medals at a shelter in Toronto,” recalls Gordon. “He had jars of coins, in place of a bank account. We got him his medals back but he died in that tiny room in which he was living.”

Like many, Gordon was heartbroken by the living conditions he saw veterans facing, with suicide and death too common an end.

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In response, Leave The Streets Behind was designed to match a veteran up with an expert caseworker that can help them to find a home or temporary shelter. The caseworker ensures that the veteran is receiving their pension benefits and that they are getting basic necessities.

“We do not receive any government money,” notes Gordon. “So, all of the funding for the LTSB program is raised by the Legion and the Women’s Auxiliary, as well as by public donation.”

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Continued funding is necessary, as the LTSB program covers the veteran’s first and last month’s rent, and provides them with a starter home kit worth $250.00.

The program also helps to pay veteran’s home and medical bills as well as their moving fees, on a case-by-case basis.

Adds Gordon, “LTSB has helped to provide our veterans with clothing, backpacks, hats, mittens, socks, toiletries and gift cards to grocery and hardware stores.”

To date, the Leave The Streets Behind program has spent two million dollars and supported 667 veterans (62 of which were female) across 139 towns in Ontario.

The Legion partners with local shelters and conducts their own street outreach to find candidates for the program. They also look to us, in the public, for nominations. In order to qualify, candidates must have served in the military/armed forces.

At this time of year, it is not enough to simply remember the sacrifice of our military veterans. We must also ask of them:

“What do you need?”