Pedestrians walking through Yonge-Dundas Square on Tuesday saw the usual morning sights, the steadily-rising backlog of cars, the odd tourist gaping at the billboards above, and the constant flow of streetcars packed with people.
But there was a unique presence populating the heart of the square signaling support for military veterans. Multiple tents had been set up, accompanied by a pair of police horses, a few on-display scout cars, various service gadgets and around 30 officers all gathered for one simple purpose.
To encourage the public to wander over, and have coffee with a cop.
Jointly organized between Constables Aaron Dale, Jeremy Burns and Laurie McCann, the ‘Coffee with a Cop, Veteran and Soldier’ event was held to not only raise public awareness to the amount of TPS officers who have served in the military, but to also shed light on the upcoming Military Veterans Wellness program that helps police officers connect military veterans struggling with mental health, addictions or housing issues to the services they need.
“I want the public to understand that we're here every year from now on and this is us celebrating Remembrance week, and we want to show that the Toronto Police and the city of Toronto has support for our veterans within our community and those people that are currently deployed on operations overseas,” said Dale, who wore camouflage epaulettes as many TPS officers are doing this month to honour the service of military veterans and bring attention to their wellness.
Dale hoped in the spirit of shared free coffee and donuts, the public would be encouraged to interact and learn from the large gathering of still-serving military members, as well as Toronto police officers, almost all of whom have previous military involvement.
Jimmy Stewart, a search and rescue technician with the Royal Canadian Air Force, was on hand at the event and is continually impressed by the potential impact the Military Veterans Wellness Program can have.
“This is a chance for members of the community to come and see what the TPS has to offer. The Military Veterans Wellness program they’re putting together is an excellent opportunity where veterans can come out, they can meet with us, they can see what services and supports are available to them.”
But more impressive to Stewart was with the TPS opening up their own support systems to veterans, there are even more options and means of providing assistance to those who require it.
“The fact that Toronto Police does have a bunch of support systems that exist for their members to access, and any veterans or retired members also have access to the same thing. So whether it's Veterans Affairs Canada, the (Royal Canadian) Legion or the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS), there are things out there that are able to help people.”
And that sentiment encouraged Jennifer Voltolina, the national outreach coordinator for OSISS, to ensure they also had a presence at the event to help explain the further next steps.
“We’re paired up with them (TPS) for their military veterans wellness program that they’ll be launching in the near future. It is to bring awareness into the communities, specifically the homeless veterans community, that there is support out there,” said Voltolina.
The program is designed so if a veteran, or someone knows somebody that is a veteran that needs help, they can contact a Toronto police officer, who will then fill out a military veterans assistance form. Once submitted, Veterans Affairs Canada, the Royal Canadian Legion and OSISS will proactively call the veteran within 72 hours and offer a case worker, an advocate or a peer to help them through their challenging time.
Many passers-by stopped by to talk about policing or offer their support.
“We are one of three agencies, so there's also the Legion and VA, and we make contact because we are a peer-to-peer program so everybody that works within our lines has an Operational Stress Injury (OSI) like PTSD, depression and anxiety, or has dealt with family members who have had an OSI, so it's like walking through that journey with your best friend,” she said.
Military veteran owned Arrowhead Coffee Company provided the refreshments.