Helping with homelessness close to home


Petrolia Legion steps up to help homeless friend

The homelessness crisis has hit close to home for the Petrolia Legion. And now members are appealing to the community to help at least one person find stable housing.

It all started two months ago, when Legion member Alex Billings – who is a veteran and the veteran services officer for Branch 216 – received a phone call about a local veteran who was living in his car in Sarnia. Billings sprang into action first finding his friend on the streets of Sarnia and then obtaining some emergency assistance and to get him a temporary place to stay.

The veteran, who is well known to members of the Petrolia Legion, is in temporary housing. Billings and the legion members have been working hard to find a long-term home for the man.

The situation is difficult, but not unusual in Lambton. County officials counted more than 50 people living “rough” or outdoors in August. The county is organizing a homelessness summit in the coming weeks.

It’s also not unusual for veterans says Robert White. He’s the Petrolia Legion’s Poppy Campaign Chair and the zone services officer.

As they return to civilian life, many veterans deal with mental health issues, including post traumatic stress disorder. Both Billings and White said there is a hyper awareness that comes from being in the service. For example, when White enters a room, he is always looking for weapons. “They trained us to fight and they expect us to find peace,” said White.

White adds the veteran the Petrolia Legion is helping now “didn’t do anything wrong. Guys fall through the cracks all the time.”

Billings said a veteran needs that person who understands, who can talk about their experiences. Another veteran, and programs run by veterans, often help.
Donations from poppies around Remembrance Day help veterans, their families and the communities they live in. That includes giving a hand up to veterans who find themselves without a place to live.

One of the programs the Petrolia Legion used to help this veteran is Operation Leave the Streets Behind, which was developed 10 years ago by the Legion’s Ontario Provincial Command. It has helped 1,043 veterans who were homeless or near homeless. Over $1 million has been given to these veterans to improve their situations for items such as first and last month’s rent, paying past due rent, medical needs such as dental, eyeglasses, transportation to medical appointments, furnishings, food and clothing.

And while the Petrolia Legion is accessing all the programs it can to help, it’s also raising money to help more directly.

A spaghetti supper is being held on Saturday Nov. 19 at the Petrolia Legion Branch as part of this effort with all the proceeds going to the veteran.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the Legion’s bar or by calling 519-882-1201. Doors open for the spaghetti dinner at 5 p.m. with dinner being served at 6 p.m. The silent auction will close at 8:30 p.m.

If you can’t attend but would like to donate, you can do that here