“Homeless veterans are still human beings. They have a big heart. They just got lost along the way somehow.” 10am
That’s the message one homeless veteran’s mother is trying to convey to Canadians across the country.
Pauline Dooling is the mother of James “Jamie” Vautier, a former Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member who is now living on the streets.
For years, Dooling has been helping her son battle homelessness, supporting him in every way, only to lose him again to the endless cycle of homelessness, all caused by mental illness.
Life wasn’t always like this for the mother-son duo. Dooling remembers a time when Jamie just like any other boy.
Originally from Newfoundland, Dooling later moved to British Columbia with her son. He had been involved with the military from an early age and spent many years serving in the cadets. In the mid-2000s, Jamie walked into a recruitment office in Vancouver and eagerly signed up to be a member of the CAF.
“I was excited for him. I was proud. I was a very proud mom. I didn’t have any hesitation. I wasn’t worrying that he’d be shipped off overseas. I was just a proud mom and so happy for him, and he was very happy as well,” recalled Dooling.
After completing his training in Borden, ON, Jamie was posted to CFB Petawawa. He spent a total of four years in the military.
According to Dooling, things started going south for Jamie while he was posted to Petawawa, when he began to first show signs of a mental illness.
At the time, however, the illness was undiagnosed and unrecognized, so Jamie was released from the military on account of his behaviour.
Unbeknownst to him and the military, Jamie was suffering from Delusional Disorder, an illness similar in nature to schizophrenia, diagnosed only after Dooling had Jamie admitted to a hospital.
Jamie was prescribed medication to treat the illness, but after a few weeks, he refused to take the medication. What ensued was an uphill battle for Dooling, who adamantly tried to get her son to take the medication. Because of this, Jamie slowly drifted away.
“They gradually move away and become loners, living on the streets basically. It doesn’t have to happen overnight, not for Jamie anyway. After a gradual amount of time that’s where he ended up,’ remembered Dooling.
Dooling remained as involved with Jamie’s life as possible, often setting him up with an apartment, getting him the furniture he needed, and making sure he was taken care of.
“I always told my son I’m just a phone call away. I always made sure he had funds he had a place to live, everything. I just made sure,” said Dooling.
Jamie, however, once he was off of his medication, would often sell the furniture and leave the apartment. He was stuck in a cycle of homelessness, in and out of apartments and the streets, since 2008. A few years later he became permanently homeless.
Throughout this time Dooling did her best to stay in contact with him.
“It’s kind of mixed emotions because you’re sad, you're angry, and you’re worried. Of course, you are worrying all the time. You can barely sleep. What happens if two weeks go by and you don’t hear from him? You’re wondering is he okay, is he still alive,” said the military mom.
Then one day it all went silent.
Dooling didn’t hear from Jamie for almost two months.
“Then I was like oh my god, something has happened for sure,” remembered Dooling.
Fearing the worst, Dooling looked all over Victoria, BC. All the places she knew Jamie would frequent, but came up short. Eventually, she went to the police station to file a missing person’s report.
After some investigation, the police informed Dooling that Jamie was safe but somehow had made his way across the country to Ottawa, ON.
During this time, hundreds of miles away from BC and Dooling, it was by fate that Capt. Vicki Ryan would meet Jamie in the nation’s capital.
Ryan is the founder and operations officer of Soldiers Helping Soldiers, an organization focused on community engagement to identify homeless veterans and connect them with services.
It was during one of her outreach missions that she was approached by Jamie.
“My family is from Newfoundland, and I look like a Ryan. Jamie came up to me at the Shepard’s of Good Hope, and he gave me his full name, and he spoke to me. And according to his mom, he doesn’t speak to anyone. And he started naming my aunt and cousins,” recalled Ryan.
Coincidentally, Jamie had grown up with Ryan’s cousins and had spent much of his childhood in her aunt’s house. It was through her aunt that Ryan was then able to connect to Dooling and inform her about her son.
“It’s very brave of Pauline to come forward. We don’t get a lot of families that are still interested. It’s not that they don’t love their veteran, it’s not that they don’t love their family members, in a lot of cases they simply have to pull back for their own health, safety, and well-being,” commented Ryan.
It is estimated that 17,000 veterans each year in Canada spend at least one night of the year homeless. Since starting SHS in 2012, Ryan and her team have found nearly 400 homeless veterans in the Ottawa area alone. Dozens of those former military members have a similar story to Jamie: a mental illness that came on during their time in the military that caused their release.
“We are finding more and more Jamies. Jamie is not the only Jamie on the street. Jamie is just one of many who are released under conditions that they can’t get access to benefits and services,” said Ryan.
After connecting, Dooling made her way to Ottawa in Sept. 2016 to look for Jamie.
“Working together we can find Jamie. We can help Pauline help him as much as she’s able and as much she’s able, and as much he’s able to accept,” said Ryan.
Because of the way Jamie was released, he’s not eligible for any benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada. However, no matter the situation, Dooling doesn’t blame the military in any way. All she wants is for her son to get the help he needs.
“Of course, my goal for Jamie is to get him in to a hospital so that he realizes it’s not bad to take medication. I would like to see that smile back on his face that he used to have. I know I might be reaching a little, but I’d like to see him being a productive person back in the workforce. Because he’s such a kind-hearted person,” said Dooling.
As Ryan and Dooling searched Ottawa’s homeless shelters for a sign of Jamie, the two were helped at every turn by others from Ottawa’s homeless community.
“It always amazes me, the capacity for love and understanding amongst the homeless people,” noted Ryan.
After days of searching, it was by chance that Dooling and Ryan ran into Jamie. It was a bittersweet reunion for the mother and son.
After spending a few hours together, Jamie went his separate way.
But no matter how many times Jamie walks away, Dooling is determined to always be there for her son and get him any help he needs.
“I’m not going to give up,” said Dooling.
Note: This interview was conducted in September 2016, at the time when Pauline Dooling and her son were reunited in Ottawa. However, neither Capt. Ryan nor Pauline Dooling have heard from or seen Jamie since late October 2016. Pauline filed a missing person’s report with the Ottawa Police Service in April 2017. The investigation is being led by Detective Dave Upshaw. After searching Ottawa’s homeless shelters, putting out media releases and broadcasts, there is still no word of Jamie. The police do not suspect foul play.
If you know of Jamie’s whereabouts you can contact the Ottawa Police Service at 613-236-1222 extension 2355.