Westminster City Council is the first London borough to partner with Veterans Aid to tackle rough sleeping.
The partnership aims to make sure that no ex-serviceman or woman ever has to resort to bedding down on the street.
Outreach workers will now refer any ex-service personnel directly to Veterans Aid, who will get them into emergency accommodation and make sure that they never have to spend a night on the streets.
Cllr Nickie Aiken, Westminster City Council cabinet member for public protection, said: “Nobody should have to sleep rough which is why we spend £6.5m on rough sleeper services in Westminster, far more than any other local authority.
“It is especially difficult to see those who have served our country ending up on the streets. That is why I am so pleased to announce that we will be the first London borough to work in direct partnership with Veterans Aid. They have a superb record of helping ex-servicemen and women and I hope that this will continue to make a real difference in Westminster.
“If you encounter a rough sleeper that you are concerned about you can call Streetlink on 0300 500 0914 or download the app.”
Of the 2,857 rough sleepers seen by Westminster’s Rough Sleeping Team, 60 self-reported having served in the Armed Forces.
Over the last three years just over two per cent of all rough sleepers in Westminster claimed to be ex-services. This compares to four per cent nationally according to DCLG figures for Autumn 2015.
Outreach workers will refer those who say they have served in the forces to Veterans Aid who can provide additional funding and help to those with a service record.
Dr Hugh Milroy, CEO of Veterans Aid, said, “I wholeheartedly embrace this partnership which will work on a number of levels. This charity’s operational HQ and Drop-In Centre has been in the heart of the Borough for over 60 years and we have been a former Lord Mayor of Westminster’s chosen charity. We share with the Westminster team a commitment to preventing and addressing street homelessness and the consequences of homelessness – not by giving short-term handouts, but by creating enduring solutions.
“We have an excellent record in dealing with homelessness among veterans to the extent that is now a rare thing to find a genuine veteran on the streets. Our emphasis for some years has been on “no first night out” through prevention. By working in close partnership with Westminster we hope to take our prevention work onto a new level through direct referrals from Westminster. We have a system of “swift-intervention” that works and recidivism among our clients is uncommon. We are deliberately offering our unique and effective service to help Westminster with its rough sleeping issue. We aren’t asking for money here, we just want to play our part.”
After eight years in the Parachute Regiment, and several years of rewarding employment after discharge, 29-year-old Greg did not expect to find himself sleeping in a car.
A career soldier, with two tours of Afghanistan under his belt, he had a family and prospects, until a motorcycle accident changed everything.
Greg’s life quickly unravelled. His relationship broke down and injuries ended his security career.
Suddenly he was homeless, vulnerable and lost. Like many others in his position his only plan was to head to London.
In fact that is exactly what he did – but not to become a rough sleeper in Westminster. Greg was brought to Veterans Aid where, within minutes of meeting a caseworker ,his fears were allayed. Clearly he needed support and, most immediately, accommodation. For three nights the charity paid for Greg to stay in a hotel - and off the streets - until a place in its London hostel, was available.
He moved there in October to join more than 50 other veterans who would otherwise be homeless in London.
CEO of Veterans Aid Dr Hugh Milroy said, “Greg’s story is not unusual. We are an operational charity, and the work we do is frontline. People who come to our Victoria Drop-in Centre are desperate; many homeless or facing the prospect of homelessness. We can’t tell hungry, hopeless veterans to ‘come back in a few days’.
*Last year ‘VA’ provided 22,000 nights of accommodation for ex-servicemen and women in crisis.