More young ex-service veterans reported to be sleeping rough, claims charity’s new CEO
A rising number of young people who have served in the Defence Forces are falling on hard times and are experiencing homelessness, the new CEO of the Irish organisation for ex-service personnel has warned.
Cormac Kirwan of Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann (ONE), a charity offering housing and support for veterans of the Defence Forces, has called on the Government to set up a “one stop shop” similar to the hubs recently established here for Ukrainian refugees, to make it easier for struggling veterans to access State services.
With hotels and airbnb accommodation back up and running again for the tourism season after the pandemic, the charity is bracing itself for a surge in the number of veterans experiencing housing problems, particularly in the greater Dublin area.
Having served in the Defence Forces for almost 30 years, with five overseas missions, Mr Kirwan left to become operations manager with Kildare GAA.
Since joining ONE in February he is now “back aligned with the military family” and says he is determined to improve things for struggling veterans.
"People are not generally aware that homelessness is a problem among some veterans,” he said.
ONE has 37 branches around Ireland, with 15 support centres, and provides 20,000 beds annually to veterans.
It says it has kept 1,000 veterans off the street. Ninety per cent of homeless veterans it helps go on to permanent housing, with Mr Kirwan saying it takes about three years for veterans to get back on their feet.
All the homes are run by ex-service personnel, he said, because it ensures “the atmosphere is right” and is what veterans have been used to while living in barracks.
Mr Kirwan said many homeless veterans “go under the radar” because they are reluctant to highlight their former status as having served in the Defence Forces due to "personal pride”.
A spokesperson for the Dublin Simon Community confirmed they are aware, anecdotally, of some former Defence Forces members who are accessing their services but said they do not officially collect or release this data.
Homelessness used to be a problem confined mainly to older former members, who had found it hard to transition back to ordinary life after a long career spent in the services, said Mr Kirwan.
However the organisation is now noticing a “significant” change in demographic among those seeking help, with more and more younger veterans leaving the defence forces after three to seven years’ service struggling to adapt.
Some have experienced marital break-up or mental health issues – though addiction issues tend to be less common among veterans than among the wider society, he said.
"Before, it would be veterans with 30 to 40 years’ service and who have come to the end of a long career but now it’s younger veterans who wouldn’t have that network, that ‘band of brothers’ that the older veterans could always rely on after a lifetime in the forces together,” said Mr Kirwan.
"But younger individuals are leaving the Defence Forces for a variety of reasons – maybe it wasn’t what they signed up for,” he said.
ONE will host its annual Sleeping Flags campaign today to raise awareness and funds for the Irish Defence Forces’ veterans it supports.
The event will see veterans and ONE members sleeping out in symbolic tricolour sleeping bags – highlighting the severity of the situation many Defence Forces veterans who have found themselves homeless.