Housing associations must rally around to combat homelessness among Armed Forces veterans

A recent project in which Armed Forced veterans built their own homes, is a reminder of the social purpose of the housing sector, writes Matt Crucefix

Matt Crucefix

Armed Forces veterans can end up homeless for a multitude of reasons as they struggle to adjust to civilian life, find employment and cope with physical or mental health issues.

Estimates by the Royal British Legion suggest there are 6,000 homeless ex-service personnel in the UK and they account for 3-4% of rough sleepers. However, the scale of the situation is hard to accurately assess because many veterans access support through self-referral or Armed Forces charities, rather than the statutory homelessness system.

The No Homeless Veterans campaign claimed in 2019 that more than 3,500 homeless veterans were slipping through the net every year, missed by local authorities and so losing out on the housing and support available to them.

While we as a sector seek to quantify the issue, it is imperative that housing associations are encouraged to build on the success of previous veteran schemes, so we can all play our part in ensuring those who have bravely served our country receive the support they need and deserve.

A few years ago, we at Stonewater teamed up with Herefordshire Council to work on an innovative self-build community project aimed at providing affordable housing for local veterans – the first time we had been involved in such a scheme.

The Noden’s Mews development, in Leominster, has involved six ex-members of the Armed Forces working alongside our contractor to build their own homes, gaining construction skills, qualifications and experience to help them find civilian employment.

Recently completed, it has delivered 19 high-quality affordable homes on the site of a former 16-flat Stonewater scheme dating back to the 1970s. Most importantly, it has transformed the lives of the veterans involved.

Rising to the challenge

Initial discussions began more than four years ago, with construction starting in September 2019. There have been many challenges along the way, not least the pandemic. The project’s success has ultimately depended on close collaboration with our partners – the council, Longleigh Foundation, local contractor Harper Group Construction and Alabare, the self-build agency which managed the veterans.

However, support on this project didn’t just stop at handing the keys over to our new residents. From donating furniture to supplying food, a number of charities kindly offered their support to ensure each veteran could move in without delay.

To me, the scheme demonstrates the vital role housing associations, and their wider network, can play in addressing homelessness. It also highlights the need to be brave and take a leap of faith, embracing innovation and exploring new partnerships, to make a real difference to people’s lives.

The far-reaching social value of Noden’s Mews is what makes it so rewarding, far outweighing the fact that such a project may net little financial reward for the development partners involved.

As a result of the initiative, six veterans who were struggling to find suitable accommodation now have secure, comfortable homes. In the process, they have built up a support network of friends, become part of a community and learned valuable skills to boost their job prospects.

It has also benefited their physical and mental health, improving their confidence and self-esteem, enabling them to rebuild relationships with their families and opening up fresh opportunities.

One participant was previously sleeping rough, suffering with health problems and had pretty much given up hope. Thanks to this project, he is now back on his feet – moving into his new home in time to celebrate Christmas with his children and looking forward to a bright future.

The scheme’s positive impact on individuals, families and communities serves as a reminder of housing associations’ fundamental social purpose – one with which we need to re-connect.

I am hopeful that the success of such initiatives will inspire fellow housing providers to take a similar leap of faith, joining forces with like-minded partners to find new ways of tackling homelessness, building new homes and rebuilding broken lives.

Matt Crucefix, Director of Development (South and West), Stonewater

You can read the full article on Inside Housing