Homeless heroes in Hamilton

News Jun 22, 2015 by Mark Newman Hamilton Mountain News

Fred Smith believes there are “several hundred” homeless veterans or veterans who need some form of assistance in Hamilton.

“There’s a lot more (homeless) veterans here than you think there is,” said the 59-year-old Milton resident and founder of Veterans Helping Veterans, a group he started in 2009 to help former members of Canada’s armed services who are sleeping at homeless shelters or on a friend’s couch.

Many are likely battling substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder and have a deep feeling of isolation and despair.

Each week Smith visits homeless shelters, legions and addiction recovery programs in Hamilton and Halton looking to sign up veterans for the variety of shelter, food and medical assistance programs they may be eligible for.

Most are men who range in age from 25 to 55.

He carries the forms with him and once they are filled out he faxes them to the Ontario Command of the Royal Canadian Legion where they are processed.

“I’ll say it doesn’t have to be this way,” Smith said.

He should know.

He has walked in their shoes.

A former solider, Smith battled his own demons of homelessness, addiction, suicidal despair and PTSD and still does.

He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1974 and was sent to the Golan Heights in the Middle East as part of a peacekeeping mission.

“I saw a lot of bad stuff,” he recalled.

During that time Smith said he was walking in Damascus, Syria with a couple of people he knew when one of them was shot to death in front of him.

“They loaded a machine gun into him after they beat him up pretty bad and I couldn’t do a thing about it,” he said.

The incident left Smith permanently scarred.

He would leave the army but the reoccurring nightmares and anxiety didn’t go away and he began to drink heavily to try and dull the pain.

His downward spiral would continue for 26 years.

There would be lots of booze and drugs and five failed marriages.

Through it all he was able to pull himself together enough to become a rather successful salesperson of windows and other accessories for a manufacturing company.

The job took him across the country but his demons followed.

In January 2007 Smith was living in Burlington but not paying his rent.

Just before Christmas he learned that his son had hanged himself.

Smith said he decided to end it all by crashing his car into the skyway abutment but had second thoughts and instead sought help at the emergency department of Joe Brant Hospital.

It was there that for the first time he was finally diagnosed with PTSD.

Smith said a social worker helped arrange housing, financial support and counseling.

He sobered up and became determined to help other veterans like himself.

Smith always wears his blue blazer with military medals and a beret on his visits to the shelters.

He finds veterans are willing to open up to him, especially after he shares his story with them.

“I give them a message of hope,” said Smith, who figures he’s helped or provided information about getting help to about 120 local veterans over the past two years. “I know I’m making a difference.”

Dean Waterfield, director of housing and homelessness at Wesley Urban Ministries, said Smith is a frequent visitor at their downtown day centre.

 “We welcome having him there,” Waterfield said.

According to Dave Gordon, executive director of the Ontario Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, Hamilton is a “hotbed” for homeless veterans.

Gordon figures the Legion spent as much as $30,000 last year to help 25-30 veterans in Hamilton find shelter, food and medical care.

Some of that help was the result of Smith’s endeavours and the numbers continue to grow.

“One homeless vet is one too many,” Gordon said.

A recent survey by the city’s housing division of 454 homeless individuals found that 30 or seven percent said they had served in the Canadian military.

Those claims were not verified.

Most were men between 50 and 64.

Veterans in need of help can call Veterans Affairs Canada at 1-866-522-2122.

Fred Smith can be reached via veteranshelpingveterans.ca.

 

Homeless heroes in Hamilton

Growing concern about growing homeless veterans in the city

News Jun 22, 2015 by Mark Newman Hamilton Mountain News

Fred Smith believes there are “several hundred” homeless veterans or veterans who need some form of assistance in Hamilton.

“There’s a lot more (homeless) veterans here than you think there is,” said the 59-year-old Milton resident and founder of Veterans Helping Veterans, a group he started in 2009 to help former members of Canada’s armed services who are sleeping at homeless shelters or on a friend’s couch.

Many are likely battling substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder and have a deep feeling of isolation and despair.

Each week Smith visits homeless shelters, legions and addiction recovery programs in Hamilton and Halton looking to sign up veterans for the variety of shelter, food and medical assistance programs they may be eligible for.

Most are men who range in age from 25 to 55.

He carries the forms with him and once they are filled out he faxes them to the Ontario Command of the Royal Canadian Legion where they are processed.

“I’ll say it doesn’t have to be this way,” Smith said.

He should know.

He has walked in their shoes.

A former solider, Smith battled his own demons of homelessness, addiction, suicidal despair and PTSD and still does.

He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1974 and was sent to the Golan Heights in the Middle East as part of a peacekeeping mission.

“I saw a lot of bad stuff,” he recalled.

During that time Smith said he was walking in Damascus, Syria with a couple of people he knew when one of them was shot to death in front of him.

“They loaded a machine gun into him after they beat him up pretty bad and I couldn’t do a thing about it,” he said.

The incident left Smith permanently scarred.

He would leave the army but the reoccurring nightmares and anxiety didn’t go away and he began to drink heavily to try and dull the pain.

His downward spiral would continue for 26 years.

There would be lots of booze and drugs and five failed marriages.

Through it all he was able to pull himself together enough to become a rather successful salesperson of windows and other accessories for a manufacturing company.

The job took him across the country but his demons followed.

In January 2007 Smith was living in Burlington but not paying his rent.

Just before Christmas he learned that his son had hanged himself.

Smith said he decided to end it all by crashing his car into the skyway abutment but had second thoughts and instead sought help at the emergency department of Joe Brant Hospital.

It was there that for the first time he was finally diagnosed with PTSD.

Smith said a social worker helped arrange housing, financial support and counseling.

He sobered up and became determined to help other veterans like himself.

Smith always wears his blue blazer with military medals and a beret on his visits to the shelters.

He finds veterans are willing to open up to him, especially after he shares his story with them.

“I give them a message of hope,” said Smith, who figures he’s helped or provided information about getting help to about 120 local veterans over the past two years. “I know I’m making a difference.”

Dean Waterfield, director of housing and homelessness at Wesley Urban Ministries, said Smith is a frequent visitor at their downtown day centre.

 “We welcome having him there,” Waterfield said.

According to Dave Gordon, executive director of the Ontario Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, Hamilton is a “hotbed” for homeless veterans.

Gordon figures the Legion spent as much as $30,000 last year to help 25-30 veterans in Hamilton find shelter, food and medical care.

Some of that help was the result of Smith’s endeavours and the numbers continue to grow.

“One homeless vet is one too many,” Gordon said.

A recent survey by the city’s housing division of 454 homeless individuals found that 30 or seven percent said they had served in the Canadian military.

Those claims were not verified.

Most were men between 50 and 64.

Veterans in need of help can call Veterans Affairs Canada at 1-866-522-2122.

Fred Smith can be reached via veteranshelpingveterans.ca.

 

Homeless heroes in Hamilton

Growing concern about growing homeless veterans in the city

News Jun 22, 2015 by Mark Newman Hamilton Mountain News

Fred Smith believes there are “several hundred” homeless veterans or veterans who need some form of assistance in Hamilton.

“There’s a lot more (homeless) veterans here than you think there is,” said the 59-year-old Milton resident and founder of Veterans Helping Veterans, a group he started in 2009 to help former members of Canada’s armed services who are sleeping at homeless shelters or on a friend’s couch.

Many are likely battling substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder and have a deep feeling of isolation and despair.

Each week Smith visits homeless shelters, legions and addiction recovery programs in Hamilton and Halton looking to sign up veterans for the variety of shelter, food and medical assistance programs they may be eligible for.

Most are men who range in age from 25 to 55.

He carries the forms with him and once they are filled out he faxes them to the Ontario Command of the Royal Canadian Legion where they are processed.

“I’ll say it doesn’t have to be this way,” Smith said.

He should know.

He has walked in their shoes.

A former solider, Smith battled his own demons of homelessness, addiction, suicidal despair and PTSD and still does.

He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1974 and was sent to the Golan Heights in the Middle East as part of a peacekeeping mission.

“I saw a lot of bad stuff,” he recalled.

During that time Smith said he was walking in Damascus, Syria with a couple of people he knew when one of them was shot to death in front of him.

“They loaded a machine gun into him after they beat him up pretty bad and I couldn’t do a thing about it,” he said.

The incident left Smith permanently scarred.

He would leave the army but the reoccurring nightmares and anxiety didn’t go away and he began to drink heavily to try and dull the pain.

His downward spiral would continue for 26 years.

There would be lots of booze and drugs and five failed marriages.

Through it all he was able to pull himself together enough to become a rather successful salesperson of windows and other accessories for a manufacturing company.

The job took him across the country but his demons followed.

In January 2007 Smith was living in Burlington but not paying his rent.

Just before Christmas he learned that his son had hanged himself.

Smith said he decided to end it all by crashing his car into the skyway abutment but had second thoughts and instead sought help at the emergency department of Joe Brant Hospital.

It was there that for the first time he was finally diagnosed with PTSD.

Smith said a social worker helped arrange housing, financial support and counseling.

He sobered up and became determined to help other veterans like himself.

Smith always wears his blue blazer with military medals and a beret on his visits to the shelters.

He finds veterans are willing to open up to him, especially after he shares his story with them.

“I give them a message of hope,” said Smith, who figures he’s helped or provided information about getting help to about 120 local veterans over the past two years. “I know I’m making a difference.”

Dean Waterfield, director of housing and homelessness at Wesley Urban Ministries, said Smith is a frequent visitor at their downtown day centre.

 “We welcome having him there,” Waterfield said.

According to Dave Gordon, executive director of the Ontario Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, Hamilton is a “hotbed” for homeless veterans.

Gordon figures the Legion spent as much as $30,000 last year to help 25-30 veterans in Hamilton find shelter, food and medical care.

Some of that help was the result of Smith’s endeavours and the numbers continue to grow.

“One homeless vet is one too many,” Gordon said.

A recent survey by the city’s housing division of 454 homeless individuals found that 30 or seven percent said they had served in the Canadian military.

Those claims were not verified.

Most were men between 50 and 64.

Veterans in need of help can call Veterans Affairs Canada at 1-866-522-2122.

Fred Smith can be reached via veteranshelpingveterans.ca.