We can end Veterans’ homelessness for £3.8m – the small price to pay for housing all homeless Veterans says Lee Buss, Riverside’s Director of Operations for Care and Support.
Remembrance Day is important for bringing our country together to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice in active service in all conflicts.
In 2020, Remembrance Day, like all national events, takes on a particularly important role in bringing the nation together at a time we have spent so much of this year physically separated from one other.
Being a veteran with front line combat experience, at this time of year I reflect deeply on those who have fallen as well as all my friends who have served and their families.
As we think about those that we have lost I believe we also have an important duty to remember our Veteran’s and to think about what more we can do to improve the lives of those who served and survived.
This year has been such an intensely difficult and challenging year for us all.
However, it has also given us some rays of hope for the future.
Having worked in the homelessness sector for the past 21 years I have never seen our Government, local authorities, homelessness service providers and emergency services work together so well in the pursuit to end rough sleeping.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic approximately 15,000 people across England have been housed in hotels and other forms of emergency accommodation.
We have now proven we can virtually end rough sleeping when there is the will to do so.
As such this year it feels particularly important to summon the political will to end homelessness for Veterans – for good.
Riverside is the largest provider of supported housing for those affected by homelessness in Britain.
On average, every year we help more than 500 Veterans find a place to stay through our SPACES (The Single Persons Accommodation Centre for the Ex Services) service at The Beacon in Catterick.
Earlier this year, Riverside worked with Alabaré Christian Care, Stoll and AF&V Launchpad as four of the largest providers of accommodation for Veterans affected by homelessness to jointly prepare a statement on the challenges we face.
Together we provide more than 550 places for Veterans.
Pre-Covid estimates indicate that between 100 and 400 Veterans sleep rough ever year and a further 3,000 to 4,000 face homelessness in cars, or derelict buildings – something no-one should experience.
Even before Covid we faced a significant financial threat which could jeopardise the excellent work we do.
Over the past few years, we have lost nearly all of the government funding allocated to support costs, leaving us facing the unprecedented situation of relying on charity fundraising to help Veterans back on their feet.
Funding for supported Veterans’ accommodation used to be included within the national Supporting People programme launched in 2003 until the removal of the ‘ring fence’.
As council budgets reduced, charitable foundations and military charities such as The Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes filled the gaps.
However, now this secondary source of funding is being eroded as they focus their funding away from things which used to be state funded.
As a result, between 17% and 35% of revenue funding from all sources has been lost over the past decade, which equates to up to £14m pounds taken out of specialist supported housing for Veterans nationally.
The impact of this affects our ability to fund safe accommodation for homeless Veterans and jeopardises our ability to house people with more complex needs (such as Veteran’s with poor mental health or disabilities).
As both the Armed Forces Covenant and the Government’s Strategy for our Veterans’ recognises, we owe a debt of gratitude to retired members of the armed forces to ensure they suffer no disadvantage as a result of their service.
We also have a responsibility to those still serving to ensure they have the confidence their colleagues will not end up homeless upon leaving the Armed Forces.
There is no mention at present in either the covenant or the strategy about supported housing for homeless Veterans.
Through our combined analysis we estimate that £2,781,985 per annum would ensure that veterans accessing the existing supported housing that exists for them would be able to get the support that they need to exit homelessness.
To reduce the number of veterans sleeping rough to zero would require an increase in the number of accommodation services which meet those with the most complex needs.
Using the unit costs for Riverside’s complex needs accommodation, and a conservative estimate of 200 additional units based on the estimated numbers of veterans sleeping rough, this would require an additional £1,018,400 per year.*
While maintaining existing services is the priority – the greater ambition is that there are No Homeless Veterans in the UK.
We are asking for a central Government pot to be set aside to ensure these services continue and not atrophy as they are currently doing.
While Covid-19 has created huge financial pressure on the Government I think the vast majority of people would agree that £3.8m a year is a small price to pay to house all the Veterans who’ve served our country.
Let’s find the money to provide a home for all those who’ve served in order to keep us safe.