How Homes for Heroes provides life-saving services to veterans experiencing homelessness
The range of services that are available to veterans via Homes for Heroes, and two veterans on how the program has changed their lives for the better.
At a glance:
- Homes for Heroes, operated by RSL LifeCare Veteran Services and supported by RSL NSW, offers transitional accommodation and wraparound support to veterans experiencing homelessness.
- Jamie had been experiencing homelessness for a decade, but has since accessed permanent housing and financial support via the program.
- Peter, who recently joined the program, is already engaging more in social activities and has successfully entered RSL LifeCare Veteran Services’ retirement living.
- “The program didn’t just change my life – it saved my life, and I am forever grateful,” says Peter.
Challenges in life after Defence can leave some veterans experiencing unintended hardship or even homelessness.
The Homes for Heroes program, operated by RSL NSW’s charity partner RSL LifeCare Veteran Services out of RSL ANZAC Village on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, offers transitional accommodation and wraparound in-community support to veterans who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
The experience has turned around the lives of veterans such as Jamie, who has now found permanent housing as a result of joining the program.
“Homes for Heroes has helped me the whole way through,” he says.
Here, Jamie and fellow Army veteran Peter, and the Veteran Housing Program Manager at RSL LifeCare Anne Mathur, walk through the range of services that are available via Homes for Heroes and how it has changed the lives of veterans.
Jamie and Peter, how did you come to join Homes for Heroes?
Jamie: “I’ve been experiencing homelessness on and off for about 10 years. I had joined the [former] Homes for Heroes program in Penrith some time ago, before they closed down. Open Arms referred me to the team there.
“Homes for Heroes found me a place to rent in Newcastle, where I stayed for two years before moving to rehab. After rehab I joined Homes for Heroes a second time.”
Peter: “I joined Homes for Heroes about four months ago. I was living at a friend’s farm but that was coming to an end.
“I’m a bit introverted and it can take some time for me to come out. But I’ve joined the bowls club, which happens three times a week. I thought bowls was for old people – geez my legs get sore! I don’t know how they do it for 18 ends, but I’m learning.”
Anne, take us through what services are available to veterans via Homes for Heroes.
Anne: “Homes for Heroes offers 12 weeks of transitional housing to veterans experiencing homelessness. We provide them with more than just a roof over their head; each veteran is allocated a dedicated case manager whose job is to help build their capacity and daily living skills, and get them back into the community.
“Many of our veterans arrive with very complex mental health issues, as you can appreciate if someone has been experiencing homelessness. Many have gone through breakdown in relationships, and may lack trust in the system. So it’s important for us to build rapport and trust in the first few days after their arrival.
“The RSL LifeCare Veteran Services claims and advocacy team works closely with the veteran to submit an application and support them through that process. And our wellbeing team supports the veteran with any employment or education goals they might have.”
How important is facilitating that personal connection between individual veterans and a network of support and services?
Anne: “We link veterans with services offered by different parts of RSL LifeCare Veteran Services – and one of our largest collaborations is with the National Centre for Veterans’ Healthcare (NCVH) at Concord Hospital.”
“A dedicated Housing Support Officer works with each veteran to link them with a long-term sustainable housing pathway. For a lot of them, it could be Rent Choice Veterans, which provides a rental subsidy for three years. After they have signed a lease and are moving into a property, veterans are eligible for $3,000 to help them set up the new life they’re working on.
“Each person has a different housing pathway; Jamie took part in Rent Choice Veterans, and Peter, who is over 55, has successfully entered retirement living here in Narrabeen.”
DID YOU KNOW? There is an RSL NSW Liaison Officer at the NCVH who works to connect veterans in need with the support and services they need.
Jamie: “I stayed at the NCVH for seven or eight weeks, which was an easy and supportive experience. I also joined the Spur Equine Program for a while.”
Anne: “Peter has been connected with a psychiatrist at the NCVH and has made beautiful friendships here.”
Peter: “Not a lot of people would go through the trials and tribulations that my case manager has. Anne and her team are one-of-a-kind. If they can see you’re genuinely having a go, they will dig their heels in to make things happen for you.”
Jamie and Peter, what is life like now that you’ve been a part of the program? What do you plan on doing next?
Jamie: “The program has been very good to me. I lost my licence about eight years ago, but via Homes for Heroes, I successfully got that back – and ended up buying my dream car, a Beetle convertible.
“I had tried to get housing through the public housing system, but didn’t have much luck. Rent Choice Veterans helped me out there. I looked at hundreds of properties, and it took me a while because of the housing crisis that’s going on but I finally found a place in Lidcombe.”
Peter: “I’m in stable housing now for the rest of my life, which is pretty special; I’ve never had that before. I’m still getting used to it, and sometimes get teary.
“I have a pretty strong connection with some of the guys here. One of them wants me to do two days a week where he works.”
Jamie: “Like I said, I’ve been homeless a few times over the past 10 years. But now I’m set up so it won’t happen again.”
Peter: “The program didn’t just change my life – it saved my life, and I am forever grateful.”
Sub-Branch support for RSL LifeCare Veteran Services
RSL sub-Branches are supporting the aims of Homes for Heroes and other RSL LifeCare Veteran Services initiatives – including via financial and in-kind support, with sub-Branches donating $3.3 million to RSL LifeCare Veteran Services last year.
Last year, the Brooklyn RSL sub-Branch hosted four veterans and a staff member from the Homes for Heroes program for a special cruise along the Hawkesbury River.
Sailing on one of the local Riverboat Postman vessels, the team visited the site of the wreck of HMAS Parramatta, Australia’s first warship, which ran aground near Milson Island in the 1930s. They proceeded to Refuge Bay, the port of departure for the MV Krait ahead of its secret raid on occupied Singapore during World War II.
“The Brooklyn RSL sub-Branch members and the Homes for Heroes veterans had a great day together, renewing the relationship that had existed pre-COVID,” remarked Derek Leslie, President of Brooklyn RSL sub-Branch. “Hopefully this will be continued as an annual event.”