Following the solemn ceremonies across our country last week to remember the fallen, we also remember all those who joined and have served in our Armed Forces.
But there is another group in my thoughts today: those veterans who find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness. They are sleeping rough, sofa surfing or have made that first step out of homelessness into hostels and supported housing.
Across the country there is a network of hostels and homes for veterans. Organisations like Stoll, Riverside, Launchpad, Alabaré and many others are there to both house and support veterans. Stoll’s current No Homeless Veterans campaign encourages housing associations to ‘think veteran’ and ensure they are doing all they can do to prevent and alleviate homelessness amongst veterans. In doing so they will be joining a network of homes that has been developed as the result of organisations and concerned individuals responding to the need. Some homes have been formally commissioned by government but many more are the result of organisations raising charitable funds.
Alabaré has developed 101 bedspaces of accommodation for veterans in 21 homes across nine geographical clusters. These homes are specifically for the veteran of working age who is homeless or at risk of homelessness. The homes are in southern England and Wales from Gosport to Plymouth to Bristol, to Pontypridd to Swansea and to Conwy in North Wales.
Back in 2006 when at the fifth anniversary of our Salisbury drop in centre for the homeless, I spoke to one of the roughsleepers. He shared with me his experiences after serving in the Army. He was able to get a good job after leaving the Army but a period of heavy drinking led to him losing his job and his marriage breaking down. Sadly, this resulted in him sleeping rough.
This was the catalyst for me to make change happen and in 2009 the first Alabaré dedicated home for veterans opened. In each cluster we opened a main home, between six to nine bed spaces and one or two smaller homes, each of three or four bed spaces. The veterans are supported by two paid Alabaré staff and several volunteers. The team focuses on welcoming the veteran into the home and the working with them to address the underlying reasons for their homelessness. This is temporary supported accommodation and within two years the veteran is supported to move to independent living.
The success of this work has only been possible with the support of many organisations. At different times during a veterans stay Walking with the Wounded, the Soldiers’ Charity, Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity, SSAFA and other charities will assist in supporting them. In fact, partnership working has been key throughout this work. The Stirling Project, a selfbuild project on the site in Honicknowle Green Plymouth, for example, has seen nine previously homeless veterans involved in the construction of 25 self-contained affordable homes to rent. These homes are only possible thanks to a partnership between ourselves, Plymouth City Council, and housing association LiveWest. 12 of the plots are being built and will be subsequently lived in, by the veterans themselves. The homes are fully electric with air source heat pumps making them sustainable and affordable in the long run. Furthermore, once complete, all of the homes will be let by LiveWest at a subsidised social rent, in order to provide support for households in high need. By working in partnership we have been able to provide homes that provide veterans with security and dignity.
This work, however, is at risk. Supported housing for veterans across the sector is largely funded by charitable grants, individuals and events. It is a sector that lacks a sustainable financial model and this is something we are hoping that the government will address. This week all our accommodation is full with 101 veterans in the homes and a waiting list beyond that. Supported housing for veterans is a vital service. As one veteran said to me a few years back the home and team provided him with “hope, honour and respect”.
Here, you can find all the latest news stories from across the Aabaré services dedicated to homeless adults, young people, veterans and those with learning disabilities.