Understanding the full extent of veteran homelessness is difficult, as there is a lack of consistency across local government and the third sector when it comes to capturing data relating to someone’s status as a veteran.
Latest estimates indicate that between 100 and 400 veterans sleep rough ever year and a further 3,000 to 4,000 face homelessness in cars, or derelict buildings – something no veteran or civilian should experience. The most recent CHAIN Data indicates 5% of rough sleepers were veterans, and this data has ranged between 3% and 4% for many years. Veterans make up 5% of the UK population, so veterans are not overrepresented in the rough sleeper population.
You often see on social media wild claims that veterans make up 10%, sometimes 25%, of the rough sleeping population. This simply isn’t true, and these claims primarily come from groups with an agenda to argue for not helping other groups, migrants for example, and not to get support for veterans.
But veteran homelessness is still an issue, and veteran specific supported housing plays a key role.
What makes veterans homelessness different?
I’ve worked in Homelessness for over 20 years, and I know that good quality mainstream supported housing can effectively meet the needs of veterans. One of the key issues mainstream and veteran supported housing is the impact of trauma, and the models we, as a sector, use to work with trauma are effective irrespective of the cause.
However, as a combat veteran with PTSD, I also know that we are really bad at seeking help. We are taught in the military that we are different to civilians, dare I say it, better, and that civilians couldn’t do what we do. This is an important part of building a strong bond, critical for ensuring that a unit can function in high stress situations. But nobody has really considered the long term impact of this. I avoided accessing mainstream mental health services for a good 10 years, using the ‘they wouldn’t understand’ excuse.
It has already been recognised that, in some circumstances, special treatment may be appropriate to overcome barriers to engagement. Armed forces veterans suffering a mental health crisis now receive specialist care as part of a new Op COURAGE service launched by NHS. NHS staff will work with military charities to provide therapy, rehab services and, in extreme cases, inpatient care to hundreds of former soldiers, sailors and RAF personnel each year. Involving charities will help NHS staff to understand the experiences and issues faced by those who have risked their lives for their country and may have lost comrades or been injured themselves.
We are asking for the same recognition to be given to veteran supported housing. Over the past few years, veteran supported housing services have lost nearly all government funding. As a result of this we are becoming significantly less able to house veterans with higher needs, addictions, poor mental health, or disability.
If this continues, we are very concerned about our ability to resource veterans’ services safely, and the significant risk of collapse of the majority of supported housing services for veterans.
Too many veterans, when given the choice of engaging in mainstream services or not engaging, are likely to choose not to engage at all.
Our concern is that, in the absence of properly funded veteran supported housing, veterans with significant support needs experiencing homelessness will avoid accessing mainstream homelessness services, and end up on the streets as a result.
The threat identified to veteran supported housing is real, and we have raise it now with a clear and achievable response in mind. It would cost just £2,781,985 per year to provide specialist supported housing to every veterans in the UK which needs it.
We are asking Government for funding for at least two years until the end of this parliament, which is £5,563,970, with a view of agreeing the mechanism for long-term sustainable funding to ensure these much-needed services continue.
So to ensure that this critical issue is put firmly on the Government’s agenda we are asking the sector to get behind our campaign for this funding – to include this call for much needed veterans’ funding in any conversations you are having and to get behind and share our social media campaign. If you would like to sign up to support our veterans – or just find out more, please visit our website.