How homeless Leeds veteran's call to SSAFA Forcesline helped to get his life back on track
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After the breakdown of a 10-year relationship, Matt had found himself homeless for a time. He was left having to share a single bed with his young daughter, while his two-year-old son slept in a cot beside him.
It was then that Matt, who had served in the Royal Dragoon Guards, turned to SSAFA’s Forcesline - a phone and online service accessible to all members of the Armed Forces community, including serving personnel, veterans, and their families.
He remembers breaking down in tears when their intervention brought an end to the housing crisis that he was experiencing prior to the Covid pandemic.
Thinking back to the phone call that started it all, he said: "They answered quickly and it didn’t take long. I explained that I was homeless and asked about the charity and what they might be able to do to support me.
"They contacted my local branch in West Yorkshire and I was soon assigned a caseworker from my local area called Elaine Bartlett."
The pair arranged to meet at his mum's house, where they sat down and talked through the details of his case.
"She made me feel like I was getting somewhere," Matt said. "Straight away, she gave me vital information that I didn’t know - for example, that as ex-Forces, I was ‘Band A’ high priority for housing.
"I didn’t have my documents from my time serving in the Army, because I was living out of a small bag and moving constantly. Elaine helped me to get copies of all my documents to give to Leeds City Council, so I could apply for housing again.
"It took a long time, but with support from SSAFA, I finally managed to get a council property which was such a relief. The moment I found out I was on my way home from my job working as a manager at a primary school. When they told me, I just cried."
Since the pandemic began to unfold, use of the charity's phoneline has fallen but requests for support via its online chat facility have risen by 260 per cent - from 88 webchat service requests in June 2020 to 317 in the same period this year.
Requests for help via email have risen by 18 per cent, while phone enquiries fell to 1,056 from 1,641 in June 2020.
The mostly commonly raised issues over the last year have included the need for help with housing, guidance around debt, the need for items such as washing machines or fridge-freezers, mobility issues and mental health issues, particularly loneliness and isolation.
Forcesline manager Bill Grant said: "We’re witnessing a great change in the way people are contacting us for support. As our lives have changed over the last year, even more people are seeking new ways to receive advice and support, whether that be via email or an online web chat.
"Since the Web Chat was launched in 2019, we have seen a rise in the demand for our online service. The technology eliminates the nerves that some people may feel when calling a helpline, making it easier for people to reach out for support."
The charity believes some of the shift away from calling the Forcesline is a reflection of so many people living in close proximity to friends of family during lockdown and worries about being overheard on the phone.
It says the most important thing is that those in need of support continue to reach out - whether by phone, email or webchat.
Bill said: "We want to urge anyone in the Forces community who is suffering with the feeling of being on their own, to reach out and keep talking. Communication is an excellent way to deal with problems and source solutions – whether that be through SSAFA’s Forcesline or speaking to a friend.”
"SSAFA has adapted in many ways to support you safely and we want to share the message that we are here – as we always are."
If you are a member of the Armed Forces, a veteran or a family member in need, contact Forcesline on 0800 260 6767 or visit ssafa.org.uk/get-help/forcesline to use the online chat facility.
Forcesline is independent of the Armed Forces chain of command. It is open Monday-Friday, 9am-5.30pm.
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