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Salvos helping combat growing veteran homelessness

20 April 2021

Salvos helping combat growing veteran homelessness

As we commemorate Anzac Day, the sad reality is more than 5500 Australian ex-service personnel may have experienced homelessness in the last year*. In response, The Salvation Army works with ex-service people in the wide range of Salvation Army housing services and programs, including the specialist Veteran Support Program in Queensland. 

Like so many others around Australia, Bron** became homeless after being priced out of the private rental market. She was listed on the Queensland Housing social housing list as a priority, due to a disability, but still could not secure housing.

As a mature-age university student, Bron was comfortable with technology, confident to lobby government ministers and willing to contact a range of services. Even so, every avenue turned into a dead-end. She ended up living in her car.

As Bron had served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), she finally connected with the Veteran Support Program through RSL Queensland and The Salvation Army.

She says: “My Salvation Army case manager supported me… until I was in long-term community housing. After I was in housing, they stayed to provide assistance in connecting me with counselling and other services. I have now been living in community housing – in an affordable disability‑friendly unit – for close to 12 months.

“The services and assistance I received enabled me to feel safe and seen. Being settled into a community and connected with services enables me to address other issues impacting my life.”

Care in challenging times

The Veteran Support Program (VSP) is a collaboration between The Salvation Army and RSL Queensland.

The program supports ex-military personnel and their families who are struggling with homelessness, or at risk of homelessness. The program supports anyone who has served full-time in the ADF, and, as needed, also offers some support for reservists.

In a recent six-month period, 66 veterans were supported, with more than 80 per cent securing private rentals.

“We work with people of all ages and all walks of life,” says Johnathon Dyer, VSP Senior Case Worker. “We have worked with 22-year-olds to people up to 80.”

He says an unprecedented post-COVID surge in rental prices and markedly shrinking rental availability has increased the incidence of homelessness and limited the solutions available.

“Most inspections have 20 people or more at them. Many real estates are reporting on the first day advertised, they are getting around 50 applications for each rental property.

“Even regional areas, that were cheaper, are becoming much more competitive. People everywhere are being priced out of market and availability is next to none. Real estate agents in Queensland, where we are based, are saying they have never seen anything like this before.”

Working to meet these changes in the market, the VSP team is developing relationships with property managers, and looking at securing more transitional housing options.

Johnathon says the RSL Queensland “has been amazing” working to help fund and find solutions.

Unique challenges

All the factors that apply to the general homeless population also apply to the veteran homeless population, Johnathon explains.

Salvation Army Veteran Support Worker Johnathon Dyer (centre), with Salvation Army Red Shield Defence Services (RSDS) representatives, helping with furnishings and other support for a veteran who had experienced homelessness.

Additional challenges can include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues, addictions, challenges with physical health, unemployment, legal issues and relationship breakup in the transition to civilian life.

He says: “There are also a whole range of skills that need to be learned or re-learned after serving in the forces, such as maintaining a tenancy, applying for work, having the skills obtained in service recognised in the civilian world and many more.

“We take a housing first framework, where especially for the initial period after a veteran comes into our program, it is all about housing. It is about getting a roof over their head. They usually have a great deal of other stuff going on and we do link them in with appropriate supports, but our focus is getting that roof, getting that stability and then they can address whatever else is going on.”

Life-changing support

Johnathon says: “I was speaking to a veteran who got a house recently and the relief in his voice was incredible. He had been in unstable housing and had periods of homelessness for quite a few years. He said he was so relieved to finally have somewhere to call his own. His struggle for daily survival in homelessness was exhausting.

“With that housing stability, we see many lives markedly improve. We get so much feedback to say how life changing the support has been. These people have served our country and deserve to be offered the dignity of a stable home and life.”

*Flinders University Research for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) and funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) found that almost 5800 contemporary veterans of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) experience homelessness within a 12-month period.

**Bron’s story first appeared in Parity magazine, July 2020


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