Veteran issues have been in the spotlight recently, with the launch of the Government’s Veteran Strategy, and the creation of the Office of Veteran Affairs. Homes for Cathy member Riverside is one housing association that is committed to supporting veterans – Homes for Cathy spoke to Lee Buss, Riverside Director of Operations and Group Veterans Lead, to find out about the particular challenges veterans face in obtaining housing and how, as a sector, we can better respond to their needs.
As part of its commitment to veterans facing homelessness, Riverside runs three veteran accommodation services and two resettlement support services. The Beacon, Hardwick House and Mike Jackson House supported accommodation centres were developed by staff who have served in the Armed Forces themselves – something that the organisation believes is an important factor in running effective services. In addition, Riverside operates SPACES, a resettlement advice and case work service, which has helped over 18,000 homeless ex-servicemen and women since it was established in 2000. Another Riverside housing advice service is located with the Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) in Colchester.
Tailored veteran support
According to Lee Buss – a veteran himself – one of the main challenges around supporting veterans is a sense of disconnection from civilian society. He says:
“The Royal British Legion estimates there are 6,000 homeless veterans in the UK, and while the number of veterans sleeping rough isn’t 100% clear, most estimates place the figure at around 3% to 4% of the rough sleeping population. As veterans represent around 5% of the overall population, this means that veterans are actually proportionally under-represented in terms of homelessness statistics.
“Everyone’s journey into and out of homelessness is particular to them. However, specific populations such as veterans tend toward specific needs requiring specific responses. It takes a veteran on average nine years to ask for help – they can find it very difficult to engage with and trust professionals in services who have no military background, often as a result of their experience of transition, making them feel threatened, isolated and insular. They’re more likely to take up help if it’s being offered by an organisation that they know specifically supports veterans and that they perceive understands them, particularly if it’s in the form of peer support from other veterans.”
He adds: “As in the general population, veteran homelessness is commonly linked to trauma – although ex-servicemen and women are no more pre-disposed to PTSD than anyone else, the experience of battle can make a pre-existing condition resurface. Providing the right type of support is therefore crucial.”
In terms of housing, Lee is keen to stress veterans should not necessarily be given preference for properties over other vulnerable groups – instead the obstacles and barriers that hinder their pathways out of homelessness and into housing need to be removed.
“It’s not about veterans being given special treatment, it’s about putting measures in place to ensure they’re not disadvantaged as a result of their service. For example, in terms of choice based lettings or access to supported housing, the local connection criteria can have a real impact for people leaving the Armed Forces, who may been posted abroad or lived in different military bases across the UK. We are supporting veterans housing association Stoll and the Cobseo Housing Cluster in their campaign for local authorities to sign up to the Armed Forces covenant, whereby they promise to ensure that veterans and armed forces personnel are not disadvantaged as a result of their service.”
Signposting and asking the right questions
Outside of specialist supported housing for veterans, the one area where housing associations can have an influence over veteran homelessness is to develop a better knowledge of the organisations that support veterans, in order to be able to guide tenants to the appropriate, tailored support.
“There’s a huge amount of support for veterans on offer but you can only signpost them to it if you know what’s out there. Housing associations can help by compiling a list of local organisations that frontline staff can direct veterans towards,” adds Lee.
However, the most crucial thing is to have measures in place to identify veterans from the point of engagement, a message that is echoed in Stoll and the Cobseo Housing Cluster’s No Homeless Veterans campaign, which urges housing and homelessness staff to ‘Think Veteran’ and identify people who are ex-Forces.
“It’s vital that housing officers know who their veterans are, and have some insight into their unique history and circumstances and the services available to support them – so housing associations need to ensure they ask prospective tenants their veteran status and have systems in place to record it.”
To find out more about Riverside’s veterans services and research and recommendations into tackling veteran homelessness, click here. To find out more about the network of organisations supporting the Armed Forces community, visit Veterans Gateway.
Does your organisation offer support for veterans? How can housing providers improve veterans’ pathways into housing? We’d love to hear from you – get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.