Further memorandum from the Soldiers,
Sailors, Airmen and Families Association(SSAFA Forces Help)
(6 December 2000)
Anecdotal evidence from homelessness agencies
in the early 1990s suggested that a disproportionately large number
of homeless people came from an ex-Service background. The charity
Crisis commissioned research to investigate the issue and the
report "Falling Out" published in 1994,
revealed that "around one quarter of all single homeless
people have served in the Forces". This figure was largely
disbelieved by the Service and ex-Service community, but the seeds
of doubt had been sown, and in November 1996 a seminar was held
in which many of the ex-Service organisations met to discuss what
should be done about the problem.
January 1997 saw the birth of the Ex-Service
Action Group on Homelessness (ESAG), comprising representatives
at Director Welfare level from the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation,
SSAFA Forces Help, Army Benevolent Fund and The Royal British
Legion. As a first step ESAG decided to commission its own research,
and in March 1997 it tasked PS Opinion Research to assess the
numbers of ex-Service homeless people in London, and to investigate
their profile. Their report, "Homeless on Civvy Street",
published in October 1997,
revealed that 22% of those who were "street homeless"
(see below) on the night of 7 May 1997 were ex-Service (Royal
Navy, Army, Royal Air Force, Merchant Navy and including National
Servicemen). In-depth interviews with 50 of these homeless ex-Servicemen
(none were women) revealed a profile that was markedly different
from that of the non-ex-Service counterparts:
Ex-Service homeless people are older
(50% are over 50 and 25% were over 60);
They have been homeless for longer;
They are more likely to be affected
by drink and physical health problems;
They are less likely to be affected
by drug and mental health problems.
It is important to be clear about what is meant
by homeless. "Street homeless" applies to those sleeping
rough or in direct access hostels. It does not include those sleeping
in longer-term hostel care or in bed and breakfast accommodation.
The headcount of street homeless people in London on the night
of 7 May 1997 was as follows:
Total number of people sleeping in
direct access hostels 2,194
Number of people sleeping rough
Total street homeless 2,458
Against the background of this research, ESAG
set about informing and bringing together the Ministry of Defence,
the single Services, the ex-Service organisations and the homeless
agencies. A seminar was held in November 1997 and this marked
the start of ESAG's role as facilitator. For the first time, organisations
and agencies from opposite ends of the spectrum felt able to debate
in a helpful forum the issues that affected ex-Service homeless
people. ESAG has continued to fulfil this important function ever
One of the first tasks undertaken by ESAG was
the publication of a leaflet which was distributed to homeless
agencies, listing the ex-Service organisations and the ways in
which they could help.
From the outset the following was clear:
From the homeless agencies' point
of view, a background in the Services is the second most significant
driver onto the streets after having been in local authority care
as a child.
From the Services' point of view,
it is important to put the figures into context. 27,000 people
leave the Services each year. Of the 264 people sleeping rough
on that night in May, some 60 will have been ex-Service; only
about 20 of them will be under 40. Hence any measures the Services
put in place would be aimed not just at a handful of people but
also at a tiny proportion of the whole.
Meanwhile a Labour Government had come to power
and in December 1997, the Social Exclusion Unit was formed, with
the remit to reduce by two thirds by 2002 the numbers of people
sleeping rough. The Social Exclusion Unit asked the Ministry of
Defence to comment on the numbers of ex-Service homeless people;
the Ministry of Defence was grateful to be able to draw on ESAG's
research in order to reply.
A number of activities and initiatives were
already underway at this time, and ESAG sought to provide a forum
in which these were highlighted. These included:
The Ex-Service Fellowship Centres,
which provide direct access help in Victoria for ex-Service homeless
people as well as a hostel in Stepney.
SSAFA Forces Help's Homeless Division,
which operates from Toynbee Hall, London E1, and in certain day
SSAFA Forces Help's Housing Advisory
Service, collocated with the Joint Service Housing Advice Office.
The Homeless Fund's project Home
Base, offering support and accommodation to single ex-Service
people (now run by Community Housing and Therapy).
Since the establishment of ESAG a number of
other initiatives have sprung up. All have been reported to ESAG
meetings and information about them has subsequently been made
available to all those on ESAG's distribution list. They can be
divided into three categories:
Initiatives following discharge;
Initiatives aimed at ex-Service personnel
already homeless or threatened with homelessness.
All these initiatives are supported by the Ministry
of Defence, the Services, the ex-Service organisations and non
ex-Service organisations including the Rough Sleepers Unit, with
whom ESAG liaises on a regular basis. A list of the initiatives
At the end of 1999, Crisis announced its intention
to undertake further research and ESAG was pleased to be given
the opportunity to comment on the research brief. The Institute
for Public Policy Research was selected to carry out the research,
which was to concentrate on gaps in provision rather than re-identifying
the problem. Their report, "Lest We Forget", was launched
on 11 November 2000.
Many of the ex-Service organisations which have
been involved in preventing homeless were dismayed by the press
release which accompanied the publication of "Lest We Forget",
and the resulting publicity. Instead of focusing on the achievements
that had taken place since 1997, emphasis seemed to be placed
on the "shocking" statistic ofas described in
at least one newspaper"up to one third" of homeless
people being ex-Service. No recognition was given to the efforts
that had been made to do something about a problem that was highlighted
five years ago.
It is SSAFA Forces Help's belief that the problem
of ex-Service homeless people is well recognised by the Services
and the ex-Service organisations. A large proportion of the ex-Service
homeless people left the Services many years ago and do not necessarily
regard themselves as "ex-Service". Helping ex-Service
homeless people requires money and effort, and funding the various
initiatives is an ongoing struggle for many of the ex-Service
charities and organisations who must compete with other demands
on their monies.
The following is a summary of the initiatives
currently in progress that assist towards preventing or tackling
aspects of homelessness amongst ex-Service personnel. Apart from
those undertaken by the Services themselves, the remaining initiatives
have either been devised or facilitated under the auspices of
the Ex-Service Action Group (ESAG).
ESAG has developed a strategy that identifies
three stages on the route to homelessness for ex-Service personnel
and therefore focuses intervention actions in these three areas.
1. Continuing improvements to re-settlement
Services (eg extension to all those with three or more years'
service, mandatory attendance, etc).
2. Service policies on reducing access to
alcohol amongst serving personnel.
3. Career Transition Partnership with Coutts
Consulting, improving access to and take up of employment opportunities.
4. Improvements to training in service and
focusing on developing transferable skill and qualifications (eg
access to NVQs etc).
5. The work of Colchester Military Prison,
now with added links to the Rough Sleepers Unit funded advice
service run by Shelter and CAB.
6. The Darlington Stepping Stones. Devised
by the Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO), this is a
residential scheme for Service personnel with mental health problems
discharged from Catterick Military Hospital but continuing to
utilise its psychiatric services.
7. Catterick Garrison initiatives. Joint
proposals between JSHAO and English Churches Housing Association
a 13 bedspace hostel nearby in Richmond,
for ex-Service personnel leaving from the Catterick base, providing
short-term housing, counselling, employment advice, etc.
Single Persons Accommodation Centre
for the Ex-Services (SPACES)a "prevention unit"
on the base providing an employment and housing advice and placement
service focused on vulnerable leavers. This is now being funded
by the Rough Sleepers Unit from its Special Innovation Fund.
8. Trinity House, Tidworth. Joint project
with JSHAO and Sarson Housing Association to house Service personnel
discharged from the local base on medical grounds. Using a former
sheltered housing scheme.
9. Ex-Services Mental Welfare Society (Combat
Stress) initiative to place specialist advisers on Army bases
to take referrals of those leaving through mental health problems,
to ensure adequate resettlement support.
10. Veterans Advice Unit. Part of Ministry
of Defence; offers advice to all ex-Service personnel on a range
of issues. In practice rarely becomes involved with homeless ex-Service
personnel in London or elsewhere.
Initiatives following discharge
1. Home Base. Project aimed at younger ex-Service
personnel arriving or arrived in London, offering temporary housing,
counselling and employment focused support. Once settled and in
a job, help is given to acquire permanent housing.
2. Ducane Road Project. Joint project with
Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation and Home Base to provide a therapeutic
community of six shared rooms for ex-Service personnel threatened
with or actually homeless, in need of counselling and support.
The project's aim is to prevent rough sleeping and to resettle
homeless ex-Service personnel back into the community with a job
and permanent housing.
3. Haig Homes "Move On" Project.
Project to provide single person accommodation as move on from
Home Base temporary homes for ex-Service personnel who are now
settled and employed.
4. Co-ordinated advice services in London.
Improving the network of ex-Service advice services for homeless
ex-Service personnel through the improving joint working between
SSAFA Forces Help's Homeless Division and the Ex-Service Fellowship
Centres. SSAFA Forces Help have now appointed a full-time co-ordinator
for their volunteer homeless advisers.
5. Improving information on ex-Service resources
available to ex-Service personnel in need. Ex-Service Resources
leaflet printed and distributed in 1998 to all Homeless Advice
agencies, Daycentres and Hostels.
6. Visits to ex-Service personnel in prisons.
Undertaken by the Benevolence Department of Royal British Legion.
Providing support, advice, etc, to ensure homelessness does not
follow release from prison.
Initiatives aimed at ex-Service personnel already
homeless or threatened with homelessness
1. Stepney Hostel. The only hostel in London
specifically for ex-Service personnel. Provides 32 bedspaces and
run by Ex-Service Fellowship Centres. Fully occupied most of the
time, often with a waiting list. However, does not provide services
to those with mental health or alcohol abuse problems.
2. Ex-Service Resettlement Project. Joint
project with Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation and Alcohol Recovery
Project aimed at providing resettlement and tenancy sustainment
for ex-Service homeless personnel with a history of alcohol abuse
and/or mental health problems. Currently jointly funded by the
Foundation and the Government's Rough Sleepers Unit.
3. Supported Housing Project for long-term
homeless ex-Service personnel. Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation proposal
to develop supported housing schemes aimed at those long-term
homeless ex-Service personnel who will not be able to live independently
without support. Currently developing a site in Fulham to provide
20 one-bed units with continuing support, the funding for which
is being provided jointly by ex-Service charities and the Housing
Corporation. Other sites/buildings being sought.
12 Geoffrey Randall and Susan Brown, "Falling
Out" [Crisis 1994]. Back
Gillian Gunner and Helen Knott, "Homeless on Civvy Street"
[PS Opinion Research 1997]. Back
Scott Ballantyne and Sinead Hanks, "Lest We Forget"
[Crisis 2000]. Back