Veterans have been ‘turned back’ by councils in their search for homes (Picture: Getty Images/Stoll)
The living cost crisis has hit families across the UK, and now its toll has been reflected in an alarming rise in the number of homeless veterans.
During the pandemic, rough sleepers were brought in off the streets as councils made efforts to adapt to lockdown.
But since then, as Covid-19 restrictions eased, vulnerable veterans have been ‘slipping through the net’.
Since March 2020, organisations have reported a 50% jump in the number of former Armed Services personnel becoming homeless, or at risk of becoming so.
The already worrying numbers are set to rise further as the cost of living skyrockets.
Richard Gammage, CEO of veteran charity Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation (Stoll), explained ‘without action, the situation could get much worse.’
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘Covid exposed some existing issues- such as anxiety and isolation,
‘But now, with the end of the eviction ban, the benefits freezes and the rising cost of living, we are seeing a real increase in the amount of homeless veterans.
Richard Gammage was in the Armed Forces before joining the third sector (Picture: Royal Navy)
‘And complex issues, such as problem gambling and addiction, are becoming challenges we are tackling more and more.
‘We need people to “think veteran”. Without action, the situation could get so much worse.’
Stoll is among 12 charities calling on government intervention as part of the No Homeless Veterans Campaign.
It calls on councils to take more responsibility in identifying and helping homeless veterans.
Terry Cyrille, from East London, shared his story of going ‘from a hospital to a homeless shelter’ as part of the campaign.
The 52-year-old served for more than 20 years in the Army and Reserves, with his service spanning from Bosnia to Iraq.
He only left in 2018 when he was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer.
Terry said: ‘Because I had been renting before I was admitted to hospital, I lost my property – so when I was discharged from the hospital, I became homeless.
‘The local authority didn’t help. They were told I was a veteran, and that I was in very bad shape – but still, I ended up going straight from hospital to a homeless shelter. ’
Terry says veterans ‘deserve better’ than what he experienced (Picture: Petros Charles Spyrou)
Terry managed to be put in touch with Stoll who helped find him a home.
He added: ‘Every local council should be proactively trying to find homeless veterans and help them into housing, as per the Armed Forces Covenant.
‘Without that more people like me will just fall through the net – and veterans deserve better than that.’
Tina Fairbrass, 52, a mother-of-one from a small village in Kent had a similar experience.
She faced endless red tape in trying to find a new home for her and her three-year-old daughter.
Tina was left ‘distraught’ after she was taken off her council’s housing list (Picture: Stoll)
Tina joined the Royal Navy in 1989 and became homeless years later after fleeing domestic abuse.
She said: ‘Joining the Royal Navy was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
‘I could never have imagined that years later, with a three-year-old daughter in tow, I would end up homeless and alone – without any help.’
One occasion, Tina says her ex-partner deliberately drove towards oncoming traffic while she and their daughter were in the car.
She eventually found a temporary place to stay through the Domestic Abuse Helpline, but the battle didn’t stop there.
She said: ‘The first time I went to the local council for help, they turned us away, only giving us a list of rental properties we could try our luck with.
‘They said they could only help if we lived in the borough – but of course, having fled domestic abuse from a man that was still stalking us, there was no way we could stay in the same place.
‘None of that seemed to matter, and eventually, they even took us off their housing list. I was distraught. ‘
Like Terry, Tina eventually found a home one she was put in touch with the charity Stoll.
Her daughter is now looking to follow in her mum’s footsteps and enter the Armed Forces as a mechanical engineering officer.
Tina has shared her story as she ‘doesn’t want anyone to have to go through what we did.’
Her plea has been echoed by Stuart McDermott, a 39-year-old veteran from Newcastle.
He served in the Army between 2002 and 2004, as a Signaller in Germany and Iraq.
Stuart was homeless for weeks before he decided to join the Army again (Picture: Stoll)
He said: ‘I left as I was unwell, mostly with stress.
‘Soon after, I was the victim of fraud and got notice to leave my flat. I stayed with family for a bit, then ended up sleeping in the woods under a poncho for six weeks.’
Stuart went back and forth between the streets and hostels, and even tried joining the Merchant Navy for a stint.
He said: ‘I never got the help I expected from the local council. I’ve moved around a lot, staying in different hostels. It makes you feel like you have no roots. It affects everything – your employability, your relationships.
‘About a year ago I got a place with Stoll. I like where I’m living now, and I’ll have a support worker soon, which will really help. But it’s taken a long time to get to where I am now.’
The No Homeless Veterans Campaign has urged councils to help prevent ex-Army personnel falling deeper into poverty.
The campaign – launched in the House of Lords this week – calls on councils, housing providers and other homeless services to find veterans at risk, include them in housing strategies and find them appropriate housing as quickly as possible.
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