RSL Victoria opened the doors of ANZAC House today to help tackle one of the most significant challenges facing the veteran community nationally.

A room full of ex-service organisations, the housing industry and government representatives came together for the first 2023 Homeless Veteran Forum - a national conversation to make strides for collaboration and better outcomes.

Nathan Klinge presents at the Homeless Veteran Forum.
Nathan Klinge presents at the Homeless Veteran Forum.

According to recent data from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, veterans are at higher risk of homelessness, they’re more likely to be homeless for longer, less likely to access mainstream services and face a multitude of factors placing them at risk of homelessness.

As guest speakers shared their learnings from supporting veterans who have lived experience of homelessness several common themes began to emerge, including the need for partnerships, prevention and treating the cause of homelessness.

Forum Facilitator Nathan Klinge from RSL Care South Australia encouraged participants to educate, question and have a dialogue about this significant challenge for the veteran community.

"We will not solve homelessness today as it’s too complicated an issue for that, however we starting a national conversation."

Nathan Klinge from RSL Care South Australia

“We could all double our resources today and still have a gap tomorrow, so it really is a case of us being able to work together, and to work smarter with the goal of generating better outcomes within the veteran community.”

Throwing his support behind the Forum was General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, former Governor-General, who attended in person.

He shared some personal anecdotes of his time in service and addressed the matter at hand.

"We are a continent of do-gooders. That is our advantage."

General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove

“There is a principal which characterises the Australian Defence Force and it also permeates the whole Australian community: we will leave nobody behind. There is nothing worse to a person of that archetype of Australian character than to feel that the person down the street is doing it tough and you did nothing. That’s why we are here.”

General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove presenting.
General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove presenting.

Participants were captivated by a short video produced by RSL Care South Australia. The video featured veterans who shared their raw and emotive journeys that led them to homelessness.

“To go from hero to zero is a journey which I wouldn’t wish upon anybody.”

“I could rescue people from heights, I could abseil, I could do all this stuff, but I was a mess as a person.”

“Problems arose when I couldn’t get work and having time on my hands allowed me to remember things I didn’t particularly want to.”

“With my addiction came really toxic people around me, domestic violence, homelessness.”

Part of the forum was dedicated to hearing from the national and state branches of the Retuned & Services League (RSL), including RSL Victoria.

Like many of the organisations, RSL Victoria’s CEO Sue Cattermole spoke about the importance of partnerships.

"The role of the RSL in Victoria is very much to be an advocate for veterans and their families and to assist them in navigating services and supports available to veterans and their families in times of need or crisis."

RSL Victoria CEO Sue Cattermole

RSL Victoria CEO Sue Cattermole.
RSL Victoria CEO Sue Cattermole.

“Accessing the correct services is about relationships, it’s about introducing our veterans and their families to services we know will be able to support their needs.”

“What we’re trying to do is educate homelessness service providers about the unique needs of veterans,” Sue said.

Vasey RSL Care is one of Victoria’s ex-service accommodation providers.

Its CEO, Jana Voloshin, addressed the forum stating that the ESO community is made up of many organisations doing great work to support veterans, war widows and their families.

“What we need to do is to come together to share all that expertise and provide a united front to represent veterans. I’m delighted to be involved in this Forum and continue to strengthen our bonds. Together we can be a strong voice for the veteran community.”

As the next hearing of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide nears, there was an overwhelming consensus on the need to address veteran homelessness, and the need for the organisations tackling this issue to be heard.

A second Homeless Veteran Forum is planned for the second half of this year, where more collaboration and work in this space will be shared.