As Remembrance Sunday approaches and the nation pays respect to the fallen, a leading military health expert has warned of a “ticking time bomb” of homelessness for armed forces veterans.
John Harrison, RAF chaplain and former Army nursing officer, told The Big Issue that aftershocks of recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are still to be felt.
The country was at war for 12 years and a lot of long-term mental health problems manifest themselves long after veterans have left the service. The problem is a ticking time bomb
“There has always been something of a correlation between veterans and homelessness,” said Harrison, a lecturer at The Liverpool John Moores University and Ministry of Defence.
“The numbers are not as bad as they used to be. However, the country was at war for 12 years and a lot of long-term mental health problems, such as PTSD, depression and anxiety, manifest themselves long after veterans have left the service. The problem is a ticking time bomb.
“A lot of servicemen are used to looking after themselves while they are in the service. I was virtually ‘homeless’ for eight months while I was serving in Iraq.”
According to Harrison, there are an estimated 7,000 homeless ex-service personnel now – compared with 9,000 in 2013 – and the aftershocks of recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are still to be felt.
Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) report that 285 veterans across London were known to be living on the streets between April and June this year.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
And partner charity St Mungo’s found that around 50 out of nearly 2,000 of their clients were from an ex-forces background – a proportion of two per cent, according to their client survey.
A proportion of ex-services personnel turn to The Big Issue when they become homeless: between eight and 12 per cent of our vendors are known to have served with the military.
The Armed Forces Covenant – the pledge from the nation to veterans, which includes a vow on housing that has produced schemes such as Forces Help to Buy – has had a positive impact, said Harrison. All 407 local authorities in Great Britain and four in Northern Ireland have signed up to the covenant, as well as more than 1,500 other organisations, since it was introduced in 2000. But he added that more research is urgently needed.
“We certainly need more research in the area as a lot of the figures are London-centric, although there is a pull to London for many homeless ex-services personnel, so they tend to gravitate to there,” he said. “The Armed Forces Covenant has certainly been a big help and, as a serving Army reservist, it has helped me to get some of my guys housed. Campaigns such as the Houses for Heroes in Scotland and The Independent’s Homeless Veterans Appeal have also helped.”