Homelessness is rising at a startling rate – but solutions are available
By Ed Tytherleigh
Early last month new data from Shelter pointed to a dramatic rise in homelessness in the UK. More than 32,000 households were deemed homeless, an increase of 23% compared to the previous year. In the midst of the usual December rush of Christmas preparations, whilst most people focused on finishing up work, travel plans and last-minute shopping, the report highlighted that for thousands of British households the priority was simply to ensure there was a roof over their head.
On the back of these stark figures, the Prime Minister has pledged to end rough sleeping within five years and allocated an additional £264m to Local Authorities to help achieve this goal. We welcome the move and are hopeful that the extra funding will enable councils to better support homeless people into appropriate housing.
When it comes to tackling homelessness among ex-Forces personnel, there are simple, practical steps that local councils can take right away to make a big impact to homeless veterans in their area. And the good news is some of these changes don’t necessarily come at any extra cost.
Why are some veterans homeless?
Research conducted by the University of York in 2018 indicated up to 4,000 veterans are in urgent housing need every year. There is a variety of reasons why former soldiers and other military personnel can be vulnerable to homelessness. Some find that after leaving the structure and focus of military life, where many day-to-day duties are taken care of, they are not well equipped for the complete autonomy of Civvy Street. As veteran Alan Marshall, who served in the Army for eight years, puts it:
During my time in the Armed Forces I didn’t learn many of the skills that are inherent to civilian life – things like managing a tenancy and organising rent and council tax payments. It was actually a massive shock when I left the Army to have all of these responsibilities that I wasn’t prepared for.
Combine this abrupt change in lifestyle with other potential issues faced by veterans – including finding work, relationship breakdowns and health issues such as addiction or PTSD – and it’s not hard to see why some ex-soldiers have difficulty maintaining a secure and stable home.
A national promise
All Local Authorities have committed to upholding the Armed Forces Covenant: a promise from the nation that veterans and their families will be treated fairly in civilian life. For this to happen, veterans first and foremost need to be identified as having served in the Armed Forces.
But we know from a number of accounts from veterans who applied for housing with their local council that they were not asked whether they had been in the military.
So the first, simple step Local Authorities should take is to ensure social housing applicants are always asked the question: have you ever Served in the Armed Forces?
The next step is to provide homeless veterans with the best support available. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 stipulated that Local Authorities must develop bespoke advice to offer veterans who access their service looking for housing. We encourage all Local Authorities to do this so they are prepared for when a veterans approaches them. There are hundreds of charities that help veterans all over the country. If councils are aware of the organisations operating in their area, veterans can be directed towards the specialist support that best suits their needs. The Veterans’ Gateway – a one stop shop for advice and resources – should be the first port of call. The key is to join up these different resources – which is one of the main goals of our No Homeless Veterans campaign.
Our campaign is all about raising awareness of the issue of veterans’ homelessness among social housing teams around the UK. In the four months since it launched, we’ve delivered briefings to some 80 local councils already and it’s gathering momentum. In the next few weeks we are speaking to Local Authorities – often several at a time – in Lancashire, Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Devon and Cornwall, and more are planned for the coming months.
And it’s working: we’re seeing concrete commitments from Local Authorities as a direct result of our briefings. For example, North East Derbyshire DC has pledged to add a question to their questionnaire on whether housing applicants have been a part of the Armed Forces.
It’s easy to arrange a briefing: just get in touch with the campaign. Thanks to the Royal British Legion we are also able to provide a comprehensive, downloadable toolkit for Local Authorities on supporting homeless veterans.
The UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but homelessness is growing at an unacceptable rate, and must not continue. We know that the solutions are available. If the right questions are asked and if local councils, military charities and housing organisations join forces, we can make a significant impact on the homelessness crisis.