Riverside are a major provider of affordable housing, care and support services across England and Scotland. Lee Buss-Blair is Director of Operations for Riverside’s Care & Support function, including their homelessness services, older people’s services, services for veterans and managed agents. In this article, Lee shares some of the steps that need to be taken to end veteran homelessness in the UK.

Everyone’s journey into and out of homelessness is particular to them. However, specific populations such as veterans tend toward specific needs requiring specific responses.

  • Veterans may find it hard to engage with and trust professionals who have no military background and haven’t shared or have an awareness of the unique experiences, circumstances and situations that members of the armed forces encounter.
  • Veterans can find themselves excluded from mainstream service provision because their behaviour does not align with the ‘normal’ client base.
  • Veterans wait longer on average than others before asking for help.

To meet these specialist needs, veterans’ accommodation services are commonly designed to enable peer support between residents, ‘value-added’ services meeting health, education and employment needs, as well as the underlying housing-related support which allows the additional interventions to work. They also overcome the barriers that veterans face when accessing mainstream homelessness services, predominantly the tendency to self-exclude from non-veteran specific services.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ Rough Sleeping Strategy revealed that 6% of UK Nationals who responded to the National Rough Sleeping Questionnaire in 2020 said they had served in the Armed Forces, 2% in London. This data, when compared to the 2021 Census data of 3.8% national and 1.4% in London, indicates that veterans are overrepresented in the rough sleeping population. We also know from the 2021 Census data that veterans are overrepresented in communal living facilities.

During 2021/22, the most recent available data, there were estimated to be 8,239 people who had slept rough in England. Using the same assumption of 6%, this will equate to 500 veterans sleeping rough in 2021/22. This figure should be considered in light of the achievements of ‘Everyone In’ and estimates for 2020/21 were much higher at 11,018 (661 potential veterans).


Op FORTITUDE is funded by The Armed Forces Covenant Fund to deliver a centralised referral pathway to end veteran homelessness. The team’s remit will be to work with individual veterans at risk of or experiencing homelessness, supporting them either into suitable accommodation or to maintain their current home.

Veterans may find it hard to engage with and trust professionals who have no military background and haven’t shared or have an awareness of the unique experiences, circumstances, and situations that members of the armed forces encounter.

If given a choice between engaging with mainstream homelessness services or not engaging at all, too many veterans will choose not to engage at all. Veterans take longer on average than others before asking for help.

Op FORTITUDE is designed to work with:

  • Veterans of the U.K. Armed Forces
  • Veterans applying for assistance as an individual, not as a family unit
  • Veterans at risk of or experiencing homelessness

Anyone in contact with an eligible veteran, with the veteran’s permission, can refer into Op FORTITUDE. Eligible veterans can also self-refer using the 0800 number below

Referrals can be made to the 0800 number 24/7 and emergency accommodation will be sourced for veterans actively sleeping rough at the point of referral.

Referrals can be made through a dedicated web portal at riv.org.uk/opfortitude or by calling 0800 952 0774 

The Role of Local Authorities in England

The Allocation of Housing Regulations 2012 already sets out that councils cannot apply a ‘local connection’ test to veterans suffering from serious injury, illness or disability which is attributable to their service, and who were serving at any time in the preceding five years.

However, Veterans experiencing homelessness will, due to the geographical dispersion of pathway providers, already travel significant distances to access veteran-specific support they feel comfortable accepting. It can be a number of years before they are ready to return to independent living.

The time-limited local connection tests that local authorities apply are potentially restricting access to social housing for veterans in the areas of Britain they wish to return to after the completion of a programme of support, and the places which veterans define as ‘home’.

Maintaining local connections for veterans placed in supported housing out of Borough would support OP FORTITUDE to both prevent homelessness, but also have accessible routes out of supported housing once a veteran is ready to move to live independently. Creating a pathway in, without ensuring effective routes out, would lead to veterans no longer in need of support ‘silting up’ the pathway.

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There are many challenges homeless veterans face when accessing services on their journey out of homelessness. Lee Buss-Blair, Director of Operations at Riverside Housing discusses some of these issues and Op Fortitude funding which is in place to help the development and delivery of a centralised referral pathway for homeless veterans.

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