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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 00:08 GMT
Services veterans homelessness risk
A man begging in London
On the streets: Problem among service leavers

At least a quarter of people who leave the armed forces in the UK end up sleeping on the streets at some point after entering civilian life, according to research.

A joint project between housing charity Shelter and the Ministry of Defence found a major demand for advice and support from people leaving the services, many of whom were returning to problems they had sought to leave behind.

The results of the project support previous findings that those leaving the forces are among the most at risk from homelessness and associated social problems.

More than 20,000 people leave the British armed services every year, but legislation in England and Wales has only recently recognised them as a rehousing priority.

Housing project

Shelter and the Ministry of Defence set up a project to tackle homelessness among former servicemen and women in 2001.


The stability and support of forces life are no longer there and they can feel totally alone as they try to adjust to civilian life

Christine Parish, Shelter
The project focused primarily on tackling potential problems among personnel being discharged after military detention in Colchester.

Of the personnel seeking advice from the project, 92% were former soldiers, 6% from the Royal Navy and only 2% from the Royal Air Force.

Between October 2001 and March this year, 70% of those facing discharge from the centre asked for help on finding a home.

Two-thirds of this group were judged to be at high risk of ending up homeless immediately after discharge.

Background problems

The project found former servicemen and women slipping into homelessness were suffering from exacerbating problems such as combat stress, mental health problems or drug dependency.

But one of the key factors was that many people joined the forces to escape family problems in civilian life, only to have to face them again when they returned.

One typical case involved a 20-year-old man who had joined the army after leaving home at 17.

When he was discharged after detention for a military offence, his family refused to take him in even though he had no home or job.

Other cases involved older men whose marriages had broken up under the stress of armed service and found they had no home on leaving.

'Loss of stability'

Christine Parish, Shelter's Director of Housing Services, said: "People can be terribly vulnerable once they leave the armed services.

"The stability and support of forces life are no longer there and they can feel totally alone as they try to adjust to civilian life.

"These are tough people. But without proper support and advice they can easily become homeless."

Research conducted by housing charity Crisis in 1994 found that nearly 40% of former servicemen and women had not had a home since leaving the forces.

Half found themselves after leaving service housed in accommodation they did not want while 60% took five years to settle.

Armed forces minister Adam Ingram said the government recognised that "effective resettlement" was vital for service leavers.

"We recognise that some of our ex-service personnel may require extra help," he said.

"Ensuring that they and their families are suitably housed is particularly important."

Until this year, local authorities were not obliged to treat homeless service leavers as priority cases for rehousing.

The new rules which came into force in July this year (see internet links) mean local authorities must treat former services personnel, former prisoners and those leaving care as priorities.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Graham Satchell
"On civvy street there are now some success stories"
Chris Edwards of St Martin's Social Care Unit
"They find problems adjusting back to society"
See also:

28 Aug 02 | Education
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