Safe, warm, and dry. It might not seem like a lot, but if you’re homeless it can be everything.
Without a home it can hard to get your life back on track. Those in the Armed Forces community face the same issues as the rest of the population when it comes to housing.
They might be only a paycheque away from losing their home, or they might be stuck in the system when it comes to social housing.
"When their friend's goodwill runs out, they don’t have anywhere else to turn to".
But when we talk to those providing housing support, they say that the Armed Forces community don’t like to ask for help. This makes it hard to ensure they get the support they need.
They might have spent their career putting their life on the line, or support someone who does. They’ve excelled in their role, been the best of the best. Theirs was a life of hard tasks that had to be done, one of duty and job to do.
All this can change once they come out of the military. Not all struggle in the transition to civvy street, but there’s a lot of challenges to take on. One missed bit of paperwork can make life so much harder, and if you don’t have a support network to fall back on then it’s a slippery slope.
People might not be rough sleeping, but they might be staying with friends, sleeping on sofas and living off the goodwill of their mates. When it runs out, they don’t have anywhere else to turn.
This is where the Legion steps in.
Trouble with transition
Nicholas Bennion was one of those who struggled with the transition to civilian life. Originally born in Fiji, he came to the UK after being recruited by the Army in 2000.
“The process was challenging because I knew nothing about civilian life.”Nicholas Bennion
He went straight into the Army and served for seven years, but when he came out he only had four months to get his transition sorted.
“The process was challenging because I knew nothing about civilian life,” says Nicholas. “It was unexpected. You don’t know much.
Nicholas on tour in Iraq.
“When you’ve been looked after by the Army, your knowledge of how things work outside of it are limited.
“In the military, everything is done in a structure. and when you leave that structure it’s very challenging. Sometimes as individuals we collapse, people get stressed out or depressed.”
Nicholas ended up living in just one room. However, he was too stubborn to ask for help.
“Without the Legion, I don’t know where I’d be."
“I reached out because of my wife. I was quite stubborn about not receiving help, I think it might be because I’m an infantryman where you don’t want to get help and just want to push through.”
The Legion was able to provide Nicholas with a deposit and first month’s rent, so that he was able to move into a two-bedroom flat. Now he’s working in the local prison, providing for his family.
Nicholas at home in his flat.
“Fortunately, the Royal British Legion gave us assistance in the areas that we needed it. Without their help it would have been really tough,” he added.
“Without the Legion, I don’t know where I’d be. Sometimes you’ve just got to humble yourself and accept that the help is there.”
Working in partnership
The Legion doesn’t just provide direct support when it comes to housing issues. We also partner with charities, enabling them to provide their expertise and support the Armed Forces community.
An example of this is Plymouth Access To Housing (PATH), a local charity in Plymouth that supports people who are vulnerable to homelessness.
"Leaving the forces is a massive transition for a lot of people and it’s quite natural to need some information and support through that."Mike Taylor, PATH
The Legion supports them with a grant which enables PATH to employ a Housing Support Worker role dedicated to assisting the Ex-Service community and developing the local relationship between TRBL and PATH.
Plymouth has a large veteran community due to the Naval base. These can be people who’ve moved to Plymouth for their military role, and don’t have a support network when things go wrong after they transition.
Mike Taylor, Director at PATH (Plymouth Access To Housing).
[Working with the ex-services community] is different,” says Mike Taylor, Director of PATH. “They’re quite independent, so they’re not used to asking for help and advice.
“Particularly when people are leaving the forces, that’s a massive transition for a lot of people and it’s quite natural to need some information and support through that. For us that’s quite a healthy thing to ask, but people do have to be prompted.”
It’s not just about giving PATH a grant though. The Legion also works closely with them, both by referring cases to PATH and by providing additional support that they can’t provide such as advice around war pensions.
“I didn’t have family that could help out”
Sometimes issues can come up long after someone has transitioned. This is what happened to Gary Bowman, who was staying with his mum in her council house. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the council started making plans to move her to a new home.
This put Gary in danger of becoming homeless as he had nowhere else to live. He called the Legion, who were able to put him in touch with PATH and provide support.
Gary in his new flat.
“My mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so we were looking to downsize her and put her into sheltered accommodation. I was told that I would be made homeless as I was only down as a non-dependent and I couldn’t stay in the property.
“Now I’ve got complete control. I pay my own rent, I can budget, I can pay my bills."Gary Bowman
“I was depressed, it was always on the back of my mind because I was worrying if my mum got a place and then I’d have to move out and I didn’t have any family that could help out.”
“That’s when I got in touch with the Legion, and I’ve not looked back. All in all, it’s been about six months since I got in touch to getting a property, so it’s been quick.
“Now I’ve got complete control. I pay my own rent, I can budget, I can pay my bills, I can see my daughter when I want. It’s absolutely fantastic.”
If you or someone you know is a member of the Armed Forces community and facing issues around housing, call us on 0808 802 8080.