Homelessness amongst British military veterans
Some of them have seen awful atrocities, been placed in hostile environments under extreme stress, and loyally served their country in times of hardship. Despite their commitment, why do too many of our British military veterans find themselves without a roof above their head after they retire from service?
Pre-pandemic estimates indicated that between 100-400 veterans sleep rough every year, and a further 3,000-4,000 face homelessness. The UK Government is well aware of the issue, with long-term sustainable housing being a major part of its Strategy for Veterans, which has set a target to ensure veterans have a secure place to live either through buying, renting or social housing by 2028.
But why do so many ex-veterans end up on the streets in the first place? On the face of it, the same causes of homelessness amongst the general UK population apply to veterans too. Lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and social issues such as relationship breakdowns or family issues all exist. However, there are certain causes that are particularly prevalent amongst ex-servicemen and women.
Having committed their lives to the armed forces, often from a very young age, many individuals know little about life outside of the services. This adds to the great difficulty in adapting to a ‘normal’ life, as some may have no experience of finding a house. There is research to suggest that military life reduces an individual’s ability to cope beyond service, with factors such as trauma of combat, mobility of the job, separation from family or drinking culture making them more prone to homelessness.
In some cases, negative experiences from servicemen and women’s military careers including bullying, drinking or a traumatic incidence have been correlated to their homelessness. The problem is not confined to certain segments of the forces; those who have enjoyed a successful career have also struggled on their departure, mainly with the transition to civilian life. Maintaining stable employment or a normal family life can prove troublesome for some according to research by the British Legion.
Whether through preparation or education while serving, more still needs to be done to ensure a smooth transition to civilian life once someone’s time in the services has come to end. This should not just apply to the initial adaption period, but for the many years afterwards when the risk of homelessness still exists. We must take pride in those who have done just that while working on behalf of our country.
Thankfully, there are numerous charities doing wonderful work to support those ex-veterans who find themselves homeless. Organisations such as SSFA, Help 4 Homeless Veterans, Helping Homeless Veterans UK, Soldiers off the Street, and Alabare Christian Care and Support are just some examples of these organisations. Although not specific to veterans, help can also be found amongst the leading homeless charities within the UK such as Crisis, Shelter and the Salvation Army.
It is hard to fathom that those veterans who have served their country could find themselves on the streets of that very same nation. Although it should never happen, the reality is that it does. The more we begin to understand and educate ourselves on the reasons why it occurs, the better chance we have to prevent it. For now though, we must support and be grateful for the incredible work done by the charities and organisations set up to help homeless veterans.