Up to 9,000 British heroes who served Queen and country are homeless after leaving the military, a Sunday Mirror investigation revealed.
Shockingly, ex-service personnel account for one in 10 rough sleepers across the UK. And charities have warned that the problem of homelessness among former soldiers, sailors and airmen is a “ticking time bomb” which will only get worse if urgent action isn’t taken.
Simon Weston OBE, who suffered serious burns in the Falklands War, accused the Government of “betraying” veterans after learning of the disturbing numbers without a home.
“A huge amount of rhetoric comes from politicians, but they never actually do anything,” he said.
“Ultimately, it’s a betrayal.” The Sunday Mirror this week heard harrowing stories from veterans who fought on the front line but now sleep in doorways, graveyards and parks, begging from the passers-by whose freedom they defended.
Many are having to cope with the devastating affects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which has led to a cycle of family break-up, addictions to drugs or alcohol and homelessness.
Peter Rawlings, a veteran of war in the former Yugoslavia, told how he was “flicked on the pavement” when he left the Army, with no help to adjust to life on civvy street.
Charities have warned that homelessness is fast becoming the next military scandal following PTSD – and that savage defence cuts would lead to yet more rough sleepers. The Army has reduced the number of soldiers by 11,500 in the past three years.
A total of 20,000 are due to be axed by 2017. The RAF and Royal Navy are each shedding 5,000 airmen and sailors. Homes 4 Heroes founder Jim Jukes said there were an estimated 9,000 homeless ex-servicemen in Britain, including rough sleepers and those in hostels and B&Bs.
He said: “With the redundancies coming up and more with PTSD this is only going to get worse. This is a ticking time bomb.” His charity helps ex-service personnel in London, Brighton, Birmingham and Northampton, giving them sleeping bags, blankets and food.
Hostels for ex-forces personnel are opening across the country. One centre was set up last year by homeless charity Coventry Cyrenians. Spokesman Stuart Sullivan said that PTSD, combined with a lack of routine when troops leave the military, forced many into a downward spiral.
“What we were finding, particularly with rough sleepers, was that a high proportion were ex-services personnel,” he said. “It’s that lack of regime – they come out and it all goes. There’s no work and it results in all sorts of issues.”
Former Irish Guardsman Arron Jones, 24, is one of those being helped by the charity. He was discharged from the Army after suffering a nervous breakdown following four family bereavements in three months.
Arron, from Coventry, said:
“The Army helped me at first, but as soon as I left the hospital I was on my own. “The hardest thing is finding accommodation. Because I’ve got such a nothing background, no one wants to know.
I get turned away everywhere because they think homeless means trouble. The Government don’t offer anything for us.”
A report by homeless charity Crisis found that 500 people sleeping rough in London this year had been in the armed forces, compared with 330 the previous year. In 2010-11 there were just 77.
The charity estimates that as many as one in 10 homeless people in parts of the UK are former service personnel.
Incredibly, the numbers have soared since the Government outlined its duty to serving and former personnel when the Armed Forces Covenant was enshrined in law in 2011.
It says they “should have priority status in applying for government-sponsored affordable housing schemes, and service leavers should retain this status for a period of discharge”.
The covenant adds: “Support should be available for all service personnel in order to assist their transition from service to civilian life. “Provision should include training, education, appropriate health care referral and job-finding preparation and assistance. It should also include information, advice and guidance on such matters as housing and financial management.”
Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said ministers should care for ex-personnel “unstintingly”.
He said: “The vast majority of servicemen make a good transition back into civilian life. Some do not and sometimes this is due to the life they led in the service of their country.
Those who are physically or mentally damaged by their experiences fighting for us deserve our support in return. The Government must look after them unstintingly, because whatever the cost to the taxpayer, it will be less than the debt we owe them.”
Labour MP Madeleine Moon, who sits on the Defence Select Committee, said:
“The Military Covenant promises priority accommodation for ex-service personnel. The problem is most local authorities and housing associations are desperately short of accommodation. The two are colliding, and this is something we have to resolve.”
Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones called for veterans to be tracked once they leave the forces.
He said: “Without a system, people will fall through the cracks.” Mr Jones said redundancies could put greater pressure on housing, adding:
“When there are people who have spent their careers in the services, suddenly being told they’ve got to leave, clearly that’s going to be a problem.”
By Ben Glaze