Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Soldiers on the street

May 18 2009
Ex-servicemen account for roughly one in 10 rough sleepers Ex-servicemen account for roughly one in 10 rough sleepers
Survey of the number of ex-sailors, soldiers and airmen on the street indicates some success in tackling ex-service homelessness in London Last November The Pavement ran a story on the figures for the number of ex-servicemen on the street, questioning the traditional figure of approximately 25 per cent of readers being ex-Forces. This was prompted by the news that the Ex-Service Action Group on Homeless (ESAG) was planning a survey to capture up-to-date statistics on the number of ex-sailors, soldiers and airmen on the street. The survey is now complete and the report published. The results, as expected, show the proportion of ex-servicemen and women living on the streets has fallen dramatically in the last decade. Ten years ago, a report published by ESAG claimed that nearly a quarter - 22 per cent - of those living on the streets had a military background. The most recent findings cite the figure at between six and 10 per cent, which would appear to indicate some real success in the strategy to tackle ex-service homelessness in London. The previous 22 per cent statistic has given rise to wild media assumptions, with many reporters trying to link battlefield trauma with the reason some ex-servicemen have become homeless. Through emotive news reportage, especially in light of the ongoing active operations, it is easy for the public to assume that there is a tangible link between military service and homelessness, and in some cases this is certainly true. However, few news reports question the previous figures compared with the new ones, and fail to examine the more mundane and therefore un-newsworthy reasons that people, some who also happen to be veterans, end up on the street. For example, after discharge someone may struggle adjusting to civilian life, and the flash to bang of ending up on the streets can happen very quickly. On the other hand a person could have been discharged 10 years previously and a set of unforeseen circumstances might have had the same outcome. At the time when the first ESAG report was commissioned, there was a lot less support for homeless veterans than today. So, although 22 per cent may seem like a large number now, one has to consider a number of factors, including the size of the armed forces before redundancies took hold, and compulsory National Service for the older generation. However, whereas some veteran's charities still used this figure until recently, especially in promoting their work, many thought it inaccurate and due a rethink. Most thought the figure a lot lower, but without new statistics it was only guesswork. Now ESAG, made up of a number of key ex-Service charities who deal with homeless people, including Veterans Aid, and the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation, has commissioned a report to reflect the current figures of the number of ex-servicemen on the street. Former members of the armed forces now account for roughly one in 10 rough sleepers, the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation recently announced to the press. The reduction to 10 per cent is attributed to several factors. Not only are the armed forces smaller, and so fewer members of the public have served in them, but it's also thought - and hoped - that the more active efforts to prevent homelessness during the transition to civilian life are helping. Alongside these factors, some credit is given to projects operating specifically to help veterans in need, which prevent them ending up on the streets. The Veterans Policy Unit has been intrinsic in devising various work-stream projects and bringing the various service charities together in an attempt to achieve this. Early initiatives include identifying those who may be at risk of becoming homeless, through the Early Service Leavers, Vulnerable Service Leavers, Gatekeeping and Medical Assessment Programmes. However, despite these positive outcomes, some service charities are only too well aware that the figure could increase again owing to the number of people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the larger ex-service housing charities, Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation, has raised these concerns and its aim to ensure that this issue remains on the political agenda is evident, seen in the Minister for Homelessness, Jeff Rooker's, presence at the opening of the new Maison Rouge housing project in Fulham. The Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation has been fundamental in supporting tenants and preventing homelessness amongst the ex-Service community for many years. The charity, which is also a Social Registered Landlord, was established in 1916 by theatre manager Sir Oswald Stoll to assist soldiers suffering permanent injury from the First World War. The aim was to provide a place where they could live with their families and receive the medical and social support needed. Happily, over 90 years later they are still performing this function.