Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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,[12] 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,[13] 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   264

    —  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 since.

  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 centres.

    —  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 in-Service;

    —  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 follows.


  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.[14]


  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 of—as 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.

Initiatives in-Service

  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 to establish:

    —  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

13   Gillian Gunner and Helen Knott, "Homeless on Civvy Street" [PS Opinion Research 1997]. Back

14   Scott Ballantyne and Sinead Hanks, "Lest We Forget" [Crisis 2000]. Back

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