Esquimalt resident Gary Davis stands outside Our Place on Pandora Avenue. On Saturday, June 10, Davis will lead a handful of people through downtown Victoria, beginning at Our Place, as part of Veterans Emergency Transition Services Canada’s national walk to help locate homeless and in-crisis veterans. Kendra Wong/Victoria News

Esquimalt resident Gary Davis stands outside Our Place on Pandora Avenue. On Saturday, June 10, Davis will lead a handful of people through downtown Victoria, beginning at Our Place, as part of Veterans Emergency Transition Services Canada’s national walk to help locate homeless and in-crisis veterans. Kendra Wong/Victoria News

Tour of Duty walk in Victoria to raise awareness of veteran homelessness

Local chapter has helped roughly a dozen veterans in the city in recent months

When Gary Davis sees homeless people sleeping in doorways and on streets in Victoria and Esquimalt, he sees them from a different perspective.

Davis, who served in the navy for 30 years, always wonders who that person is, how they got there, what they were before and if they were once a part of the military.

“Whenever I walk down the streets, anytime I see a less fortunate person in a doorway or with drug problems, I always wonder if he’s a veteran,” said the 61-year-old Esquimalt resident, who is raising awareness of veteran homelessness this weekend.

Davis is the field operations manager on Vancouver Island for the Veterans Emergency Transition Services (VETS) Canada, a national charity and service provider of Veterans Affairs Canada that assists homeless and in-crisis veterans and connects them with services.

Across the country there are an estimated 2,200 to 2,300 homeless or in-crisis veterans. It’s a problem affecting Victoria as well.

Locally, Davis is surprised at how many veterans fall through the cracks. Over the past six months, there have been roughly a dozen veterans in need of services who Davis and his volunteers have found through referrals in Victoria, along with several in Nanaimo and some in Courtenay.

“There are people who have suffered some debilitating traumas in the military and I think that those folks need help. I think there’s a certain trust between military people that doesn’t exist between civilians and military people,” Davis said.

“To help a guy get back on his feet is a wonderful thing to do. I wish every case was a perfect outcome. They aren’t all successful, but when we do help a guy out and he rises to the challenge of life, it’s a wonderful thing to see.”

In many cases Davis has dealt with veterans who have had difficulty transitioning to civilian life and often drop off the radar. They also range in age, from younger veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from things they’ve witnessed overseas, to older veterans who have had difficulty making ends meet.

To help raise awareness of the veteran homelessness population and to locate veterans in need, VETS Canada is hosting its Coast to Coast Tour of Duty in communities across the country, including Victoria, this weekend. While this is the walk’s second year, it is the first time it will be taking place in Victoria, with a handful of volunteers walking from Our Place Society to the Johnson Street Bridge.

The Coast to Coast Tour of Duty takes place Saturday, June 10 beginning at 1 p.m. For more information visit vetscanada.org.

kendra.wong@vicnews.com

HomelessnessVeterans