Active members of the military are experiencing an “epidemic” of homelessness in Nova Scotia, with some resorting to living in their cars or couch-surfing for shelter. Others are not taking assignments in the province because housing is so unaffordable or unavailable, according to testimony heard by provincial MLAs on Tuesday.
According to a report in Saltwire, a legislative standing committee invited representatives from groups that provide services to Canadian Armed Forces members to provide insight into the situation.
The executive director of the Royal Canadian Legion Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command, Craig Hood, said he had heard “startling” stories of military members “living rough” in tents, in their vehicles, and couch-surfing. According to Hood, some have even entered into relationships where they risk experiencing domestic violence, in order to secure housing.
“This is quite a serious incident or epidemic, if you want to call it [that], and it needs to be tackled,” Hood said.
As a military veteran himself, Hood noted a sharp increase in demand for assistance through the Legion’s benevolent funds. The organization is now compelled to explore additional avenues for fundraising, extending beyond the traditional yearly poppy campaign and other donations.
“We have active serving regular force members who are still couch surfing, that were posted here in the summer, (because) they cannot find a place to live. They’re regularly now going to food banks,” said Erica Fleck, director of emergency management for the Halifax Regional Municipality.
“People cannot afford to live here. They cannot secure housing, they cannot secure a rental.”
Also a military veteran, Fleck told the committee that CAF members are apparently turning down postings in the province or leaving the military entirely since they know they will be unable to find not just a place to live, but proper healthcare. The sentiment was echoed by Hood.
At least 40 unhoused people who are also military members have been identified in the Halifax Regional Municipality, but Fleck believes there could be hundreds more due to reliance on such unstable housing arrangements.
Finding affordable housing is also more difficult for military families who often must relocate on limited notice, meaning that spouses may struggle to find work in their field will comparable pay to their previous jobs.
According to Hood, the situation is so dire that even those with a place to live are requesting assistance to cover basic expenses such as electricity, heating fuel bills, and groceries.
“It is extremely challenging for them, and people are making very difficult choices right now,” Hood said.
“It’s heartbreaking that these are the people [whose] primary job is to defend our country, and they can’t afford to live here,” Fleck said.
While the nationwide housing crisis continues, Canada also continues to take in unprecedentedly high numbers of immigrants. In the third quarter of 2023 alone, the country’s population increased by more than 430,000, marking the highest quarterly rate since 1957.