meet armed forces outreach support worker steve winter

believe housing is proud to work with the Armed Forces Outreach Service (AFOS) to support members of the Forces community.

AFOS is a Local Authority partnership comprising of believe housing, Durham County Council, Your Homes Newcastle, Newcastle Council and lead organisation Gateshead Council, which covers approximately 4000sq km.

Durham County Council Housing Solutions Team supports believe housing by working with AFOS staff in their role as the main conduit between client and the Local Authority.

believe housing and AFOS work in partnership to support and get the best possible outcome for AFOS clients and residents, or prospective residents who serve or who have served in the Armed Forces and their families.

Here, we meet Armed Forces Outreach Support Worker Steve Winter.

What is your role?
I assist Armed Forces Veterans, Serving Military Personnel who are leaving or considering leaving the Forces and Reservists, and family members of these groups.

I assist clients to access appropriate housing services (regardless of whether they are married, single or in a long-term partnership) and signpost them to appropriate services if they need help with mental health, financial, debt or employment and training opportunities.

I’m a SSAFA case worker so can approach Armed Forces Charities and organisations, on behalf of a client, for support with home furnishings, white goods or adaptations if required.

AFOS proudly follows, and reminds all associated agencies to follow, the Armed Forces Covenant, which has been enshrined in law since May 2011. The great work of AFOS features in the Armed Forces Covenant Guidance as an example of Best Practice nationally, in relation to housing and the Armed Forces community.

In partnership with Walking with the Wounded, AFOS also provides training, volunteering and employment opportunities so I highlight this with my clients and discuss their needs and suitability.

How do you work with believe housing and its customers?

My referrals come from a huge array of sources including Durham County Council Housing Solutions Team, Armed Service charities, individual military units, the MOD and its various composite elements, self-referrals and from believe housing itself.

When referrals come from sources external to believe housing, I advise the client on their options and explore the best tenancy for them. I help with their housing application, with advice about the process and gathering information to support the application and assess any other needs they might have.

When a referral comes from believe housing, I move directly to assessing the client for any needs beyond their housing application. This could be checking appropriate benefits are in place, employment needs, mental/physical health and family needs.

Throughout the housing application process, I liaise between believe housing and the client to ensure a smooth process and that the client receives the correct banding for their needs.

Both believe housing and AFOS recognise that placing a client in a property without any furniture is likely to lead to a tenancy failure. So, once the client has accepted a property, I draft a case to service charities such as Royal British Legion or SSAFA to secure funding for items such as carpets, cookers, fridges and beds.

If a veteran needs assistance from AFOS, it’s available regardless of how long ago they served, how long they served for or their reason for discharge.

believe housing recognises that veterans can find settling into civilian life and financial management difficult, sometimes resulting in rent or council tax arrears. When this occurs AFOS offers advice, support and assistance to the client to reduce or clear the arrears.

What is your background, how did you end up with this career?

I spent eight years in the Royal Navy, joining at 16, followed by a brief period in the Merchant Navy.

I then found myself working in various housing roles within a Local Authority until redundancy forced me on to yet another career path.

Being in the Royal Navy at the time of the Falklands War and seeing how personnel were treated on their return, with little regard for their mental health, or, for those needing to leave the service, support integrating back into civilian life has always remained with me so when an opportunity to work in Supported Housing for Veterans in Catterick and Middlesbrough became available, I took it.

Although I enjoyed those roles, they were quite restrictive in what could be achieved and so, when a role at AFOS became available, I saw the opportunity for a little more freedom and the chance to, alongside colleagues, influence the direction of Veterans support in the community.

What is the most difficult part of your role?

Veterans, especially those who have served for a number of years, tend to be very proud independent people and often reluctant to accept help or support they’re entitled to.

Fortunately, as all AFOS staff are veterans themselves and have at some time in their lives faced similar situations to our clients, we can usually overcome this and encourage them to work with us.

We find that we get the best outcomes for clients when they’re fully engaged and work with us to achieve their goals. Any support provided is definitely a two-way process. Clients must provide relevant information when it is requested, take advised actions and keep me updated on any issues or changes in circumstance as they arise. This is the recipe for a successful outcome for our clients.

What is most rewarding about your role?

Undoubtedly, it is seeing clients achieve their aims, particularly if they’ve spent a period of time in Supported Accommodation, rough sleeping or sofa surfing.

Seeing a client settling into their new secure home, with essentials provided and listening to them planning a future and having been instrumental in allowing them an opportunity to rebuild their lives is just amazing.

Something unexpected about you or the work you do with believe housing

Having worked in this role with believe housing for almost three years now, I am always pleasantly surprised and impressed by the importance believe housing places on supporting the Armed Forces Community across Durham.

To date I don’t believe there has been a situation that I have been unable to resolve on behalf of clients by engaging in conversation with officers from believe housing.