Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Emmaus UK (3 November 2000)


  General homelessness statistics for the UK show consistently that 25% of rough sleepers are Ex-service personnel.

  Our own experience in Emmaus, through our six Communities, certainly corresponds with this:

  Of 52 people who have taken part in an internal survey of user profiles, 4% had been in the RAF, 12% in the Army, and 6% in the Royal Navy—a total of 22% of those people surveyed. A further 8% had been in the Territorial Army.

  It is important to bear in mind that our survey was undertaken purely voluntarily, and as such conveys the experiences of only a certain amount of those people entering our Communities. The results of this survey have, however, been consistent over the 10 years Emmaus has been in the UK, and as such, represent a true picture of the general profile of all the people who have entered an Emmaus Community.

  Although an MoD spokesman recently dismissed these recent claims as anecdotal, as some 27,000 personnel leave the forces each year, the numbers ending up on the street from such a specific career background are grounds for concern.

  It is most likely that one of the root causes of such a high proportion of ex-service personnel ending up on the street is the inability to adapt to civilian life. The elements of strict discipline, a clear definition of rank and order, and life within an enclosed and relatively secure environment combine to create a lifestyle very different from that on "Civvy Street". There are, of course, many other considerations which need to be borne in mind as contributing factors to the phenomenon—the various stresses and strains, both physical and psychological, encountered within a fighting unit—especially by veterans of conflict, can leave deep scars affecting an individual's working and family life. By far the main cause of homelessness is the breakdown in family life or personal family trauma, and any factors that perpetuate this need to be addressed.

  The re-integration of forces personnel into mainstream society appears to be being addressed in parts, but on what level? Various Forces initiatives—the Tri-services Resettlement organisation and similar services provision are aimed at helping individuals with integration through training and skills programmes as well as career and job procurement advice. Yet it is only recently, with the introduction of an RSU funded advice centre at Catterick Garrison, that an attempt has been made to stop people leaving the forces and becoming homeless. Homelessness has deep and wide ranging root causes. Areas such as tenancy sustainment and aspects of self-sufficiency need to be taken on board and addressed prior to a person entering civilian life, and problems which may arise for each individual need to be recognised and solutions sought.

  Based on the statistics, 25% of the 1,600 people sleeping rough on any given night of the year in the UK means that up to 400 people will probably be ex-Service personnel. Whilst blame cannot be apportioned to the Forces for the fact that these people have ended up on the street, this number should be significant enough to ensure serious research into the causes of this phenomenon, and subsequent ways of addressing the problem. This should be done in association with those organisations whose existence is due to the people living on the street and in inadequate accommodation, acknowledging the wealth of expertise which has arisen out of Britain's homelessness industry.

  Emmaus is a leading figure in British homelessness provision, and a very large and effective movement world-wide. Emmaus offers a home and work to those in need, within a safe, familial environment. Each Companion (as residents are called) has their own room, giving them independence, but live and work as a community where each person is as important a part of daily life as the next, and where life is a shared experience—sharing meals and personal touches such as celebrating birthdays are essential elements in ensuring that the Community is more than a mere hostel.

  Every Community has its own revenue-generating business in which all the Companions are expected to work a full 40-hour week. The core business is collecting, repairing, renovating and reselling donated goods, with particular emphasis on furniture and electrical white goods. The revenue generated from this, together with accommodation receipts (Companions will normally be eligible for Housing Benefit), ensure that all Communities will become self-financing and not a continuing drain on statutory and charitable resources.

  The Communities work because they take people out of the dependency cycle and give them a chance to help themselves. The ideal is very simple: sign off primary benefit (Jobseeker's Allowance or Income Support); accept the rule of no alcohol, drugs or violence on the premises; agree to participate in Community life and to work in the Community business. In exchange, a person may stay in the Community as long as he/she wishes and receives spending money of £31 (current) per week and £5 saved for leaving. Three to six months is the average first stay but some people stay for longer periods, which helps the stability of the Community, whilst others will move on to other accommodation or return to family. Many return for longer periods, but always there is no restriction on length of stay.

  There are currently Communities in Brighton, Dover, Coventry, Mossley (East Manchester) and Cambridge, with a further three Communities due to open within the next 12 months, and around 17 groups committed to setting up Communities, from all over the country.

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