This week Crisis issued a report setting out their plans to make homelessness ‘a thing of the past.’ Reducing homelessness to zero is absolutely the right objective and one we share in the veterans’ sector. We are also optimistic that it can be done.
The question is how? Every year over 1,000 ex-service personnel need urgent support to find accommodation – that’s a lot of lives, a lot of associated mental health problems, a lot of affected families and friends. There are all sorts of reasons why former members of the Armed Forces end up being homeless. For Alan the trigger was relationship breakdown, for Brian it was unemployment and lack of money, for Ian it was a combination of living with PTSD and his erratic behaviour, which made his relationship untenable.
All three of these gentlemen have a home now. But they and many others have spent time being homeless that could have been avoided. Time spent living under a bridge by the River Thames, looking in bins for food, sofa surfing.
Working in partnership with other organisations which provide accommodation for ex-servicemen and women – we developed a Call to Action to highlight the key issues that need addressing if we are to avoid more people like Alan, Brian and Ian being homeless:
- The Ministry of Defence needs to ensure that every single service leaver, whatever their circumstances, is asked about their housing options after service. Those identified of being at risk of homelessness should be given bespoke advice.
- All Local Authorities and other agencies in the ‘civilian’ sphere must establish if a person seeking housing support is a veteran and then have a clear plan to respond to the veterans they identify.
The signs are positive. The Ministry of Defence is developing a new veterans’ strategy and we are working with the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Tobias Ellwood MP, to ensure tackling homelessness is included.
We are also taking some practical steps, such as introducing the Veterans Housing Advice service telephone support for homeless Veterans and launching a vacancies dashboard that lists all the available properties across the country that have been ring-fenced for Veterans.
Getting the system right is vital. Identifying those people who may struggle and making sure they get the right advice is critical.
But we also have to address the actual shortage of affordable social housing for Veterans. Research by the University of York identified that the garrison town of Aldershot faces a specific shortage of housing for Veterans and that is why I am so pleased that this week we have opened 34 new homes in the town for Veterans to rent. We are working to ensure that anyone who serves their country has an appropriate place to live – a place to call home where they can rebuild their lives.
Veteran Craig Wheatley served in the Army for 11 years and is due to move into his new home. He told me that he’s ready for the next step, to move into his own flat and that without help he didn’t know where he’d be today. A new flat gives Craig a fresh opportunity for the future.
The new homes, to be opened by Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex, are called Centenary Lodge to mark 100 years from the end of World War One – and 100 years since our organisation was formed. The project has taken us a step closer to reducing homelessness to zero and enabling more Veterans to lead fulfilling and independent lives. I hope it will take a lot less than 100 years before we have enough suitable homes for all the Veterans who need them.
You can support the campaign to reduce homelessness to zero by signing up here.