In the UK today, there are around 320,000 people without a home.
Homelessness comes in many different forms; some people are sleeping rough on the streets while others may be staying on friends’ sofas or staying in a hostel long-term.
Of those without a home, 6000 are men and women who served this country as a member of our armed forces, only to find themselves experiencing some form of homelessness.
The reasons for this are complex, often stemming in a difficulty in adapting to civilian life after years spent with a strict regimented lifestyle.
We know that veterans are disproportionately likely to be impacted by a wide range of challenging and often intersecting issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and/or alcohol misuse, depression and other mental health problems.
These, coupled a difficulty in entering the civilian jobs market are major factors that go some way to explaining veteran homelessness.
Even before the pandemic struck, many veterans were slipping through the net or finding themselves without any form of support. They are often unable to be supported by mainstream homelessness charities not equipped to meet their needs, thus turn to often cash-strapped local councils.
We often think of our armed forces as protecting us from external threats, keeping us safe and secure from those who wish to harm us or our way of life.
Yet as if we needed reminding any more, the Coronavirus pandemic has shown that our armed forces keep us safe in so many more ways than we can even imagine.
It was the armed forces that were deployed to test people at the start of the crisis, who ensured that vital supply chains kept running and who are helping to secure the effective roll-out of the vaccine.
At Community’s biennial delegate conference in 2019, members of the union came together to decide our priorities for the year ahead. Delegates took the decision that ending veteran homelessness should be a priority campaign for us going forward.
We wanted to support those who have given so much to us as a country. We ran, walked and cycled to raise money for a local charity to help end veteran homelessness and between us we raised over £6,000.
We created a bespoke learning and training offer for veterans to improve their employability, and we successfully managed to change Labour Party policy. Our members up and down the country have been collecting warm winter clothes, toiletries and other necessities to support veterans.
We will never be able to thank the servicemen and women who have served us at home and overseas fully. However, the very least we can do is ensure that they have a roof over their head and a bed to sleep in at night.
One way we can all work to end veteran homelessness is to encourage more organisations to sign up to the Armed Forces Covenant. The Covenant is a promise by the employers to ensure that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, have equal opportunities including at work, and when applying for jobs.
The government have a key role to play too and they must not miss the opportunity presented by the Armed Forces Bill. They should use the Bill to set measurable, national standards and empower local authorities to deliver including by providing ring fenced funding to councils for specialised mental health and substance misuse support services.
Every government and every political party talk a big game when it comes to supporting our armed forces. Now is the time to deliver, and the time to end this national scandal once and for all.