Government makes promise to help homeless ex-Armed Forces whatever the cost
The Veterans Minister said the current budget of £8.55million for Op Fortitude will not be enough if hundreds more former personnel continue to come forward – but he pledged the cash will be found.
Officials are unsure whether recent publicity campaigns are behind the spike. Mr Mercer said: “We are seeing a high level of demand on that service at the moment – higher than we anticipated.
“It may require further funding in the autumn. We need to figure out whether that is a long-term demand or whether it’s because we’ve worked gone out there and said, ‘We’re going to end veteran homelessness’ and the publicity around that has generated some of that demand.
“It is either a big spurt at the start, which is where we are now and it will drop off. If it doesn’t, we will need to resource that.”
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Mr Mercer admitted veterans are “over-represented” in the numbers presenting as homeless, causing alarm among officials.
But hundreds of homes will be made available later this year for those veterans, taking the total to 900.
The minister said 470 people have been referred to Op Fortitude – the programme set up to tackle homelessness in the veteran community – since it was launched in July.
Some 76 beds have already been found. The latest Combined Homelessness and Information Network report published last month stated that 5 percent of people seen rough sleeping in the year to March in London had served in the Armed Forces.
Some 119, 2 percent, of those were UK nationals. Mr Mercer admitted the Government does not know exactly how many veterans are homeless but he revealed officials are now collecting far more data and that the Office for Veterans’ Affairs is making significant progress.
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He added: “It is hard to get a handle on who is homeless and who is not. “The way we try to look at it is whether or not it’s in keeping with the rest of the population because you’ll always get a level of homelessness.
You’ll have those with complex problems around alcohol and addiction.
“Data is always difficult in this space and that’s why we’ve applied so much of what we’ve done to data. This country didn’t even know how many veterans it had when I turned up.”
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