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By Lee Buss-Blair, Director of Operations at Riverside Housing Association

Riverside has provided specialist services to veterans of the Armed Forces since 2000. But identifying the numbers of veterans being supported in the homelessness sector is tricky, as recording veteran status is still patchy, with the most recent CHAIN data shows 5% of the rough sleeping population in London as being a veteran.

Veterans can be reluctant to engage with mainstream services and avoid seeking help as a result. I’ve worked in the homelessness sector for over 20 years, and I know that a good quality mainstream homelessness service can work effectively with a veteran. The golden thread that runs through both customer groups is trauma, and the homelessness sector has made great strides in working effectively with people experiencing its impact.

However, as a combat veteran myself, I know that we are spectacularly good at self-excluding ourselves from most mainstream services. I’ve been there myself, avoiding seeking help on the basis that civilians hadn’t seen what I had seen, done what I had done, experienced what I had experienced, so couldn’t possibly understand or help me. That wasn’t true, but it is where my journey through military life had taken me to, and it’s a really difficult place to escape from.

So I’m going in early with ask #1, ask the veteran question! It’s the first step in identifying a viable route out of homelessness for any veteran.

And there is a lot of support available, so much in fact that it can be extremely difficult to navigate. Front line support colleagues have, in my view, one of the hardest jobs in the world. We ask them to work with people who have some really entrenched negative views about themselves, and their ability to make positive change, and support them to find their own motivation to achieve positive outcomes for themselves. So having a range of tools in your toolbox is essential.

One such ‘tool’ for those working with veterans is SPACES.

Riverside’s SPACES (Single Persons Accommodation Centre for the Ex-Services), is a national service funded by the MOD that has helped over 14,000 ex-servicemen and women find housing since it started in 2000.

The overall objective of the project is to assist single service leavers and veterans at risk of experiencing, or currently experiencing, homelessness, to find suitable accommodation. Single service leavers, especially those who entered the military from the care system, can be especially vulnerable to homelessness as a result of a combination of factors.

During the pandemic, 339 customers were housed by SPACES across 67 Local Authority areas, 111 of whom were housed in Riverside’s three veteran specific supported housing schemes. A further 52 were accepted as being owed a duty by a local authority and the remainder supported to access the private rented sector.

This brings me to ask #2. If you are working with a veteran, especially one who seems reluctant to engage, please consider discussing the option to refer them to SPACES. Our team don’t just signpost or provide information – they will work with their customers until they are rehoused, rather than just the team also includes staff who are themselves veterans – which can sometimes make a huge difference when building relationships with those in most need.

You can either email spaces@riverside.org.uk, or call 01748 833797 to chat to a member of the team, or complete the SPACES on-line referral form.