A new program at the Old Brewery Mission is getting homeless veterans back on their feet – providing housing and health services to those who served.

The first 16 participants are just wrapping up their first year.

Mario Gagne says he had reached rock bottom at the end of his service. After three years in the army, he had nowhere to go.

“I ended up spending my last $72 on a motel room, and then the next day I had nothing. I was on the streets,” he explained.

A chance encounter with another homeless veteran led him to the Old Brewery Mission.

Gagne was one of the first participants in a new program, specifically to house those who had served.

It also provides physical and mental health care.

The Old Brewery Mission finds veterans are more susceptible to chronic homelessness, and have trouble seeking help.

“These are typically people who have left the Armed Forces maybe a decade ago, and they’ve been on a trajectory downwards ever since,” said Matthew Pearce, director of the Old Brewery Mission.

“So when they get to our door it means they have addictions, it means they have mental illness,” he said.

The mission turned to V.E.T.S Canada, a Halifax-based group specializing in helping at-risk veterans, trying to break down feelings of shame and solitude.

“Veterans want to talk to someone who understands them,” said Debbie Lowther, the organization’s co-founder. “When they’re talking to organizations that are veteran-specific, I think they feel more comfortable opening up.”

Veterans Affairs Canada estimates there are 2500 homeless living across the country.

In Montreal, the Old Brewery Mission says it’s about 6 per cent of the city’s homeless population who used to serve in the Armed Forces.

“They have a heck of a time adjusting to civilian life from the framed and controlled military life they’ve become accustomed to,” Pearce said.

All 16 participants now have a place to call home.

Gagne lives in Trois Rivieres, and at 54, hopes to go to university one day.

He’s even started painting again – one of his passions.

“Hope, there’s still hope – even though I was in that situation, they helped me out and they supported me,” Gagne said.