ANGUISHING in the dingy caravan he then called home, Josh Crooks peered up at the winter sky and asked himself how life had come to this.
Just two years before, he had what he described as the “best job in the world” in the British Army.
As a sapper, he was surrounded by mates and had travelled all over the globe.
But when a freak injury forced his medical discharge and a pal pulled out of sharing their flat, his list of options grew thin.
With winter closing in and nowhere else to go, he moved into a caravan in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex — and slipped into a deep depression.
He said: “I’ve never been so miserable.”
FAILED BY COUNCILS
When circumstances conspired against him, he had gone straight to the local authority, convinced his service for the country counted for something.
But it didn’t.
Because Josh is one of an estimated 3,500 veterans who every year are failed by local councils when they ask for housing support.
Now the No Homeless Veterans campaign, which is launched this week, aims to reduce veteran homelessness as close to zero as possible.
The organisers are demanding that local authorities, charities and advice agencies ask every person who applies for housing if they are a veteran so those who are can get the right support.
SLIPPED THROUGH NET
The campaign also wants ex- soldiers looking for support to be directed towards the Veterans’ Gateway for housing advice, and local authorities to appoint an Armed Forces “champion” to ensure their commitments to ex-personnel are met.
Luckily for Josh, he found Stoll — one of a handful of military charities helping to house our heroes.
And thanks to Stoll and others, there is enough support to eradicate the problem completely.
Every night, there are 10,200 beds in the UK available to service veterans.
But too often local authorities are failing to ask homeless people if they have served — leaving thousands like Josh to slip through the net.
The Government’s latest homelessness data reveals that over the past year just 1,780 homeless veterans were identified by local council housing staff, out of 246,290 cases of homelessness recorded in the same period.
The No Homeless Veterans campaign is backed by athlete and ex-Army sergeant Dame Kelly Holmes[/caption]
That is just 0.72 per cent of accepted cases.
London is the worst-performing region, with just 70 veterans identified for support out of a homeless population of 25,810 — just 0.27 percent.
That is despite studies suggesting that up to three per cent of people sleeping rough in England are ex-servicemen and women.
The figures mean around 3,500 homeless veterans across the UK are not getting the support they are entitled to.
The figure includes rough sleepers as well as those sleeping in cars, tents and sofa surfing at friends’ houses.
A recent survey found that 80 per cent of us agree that more needs to be done to identify and support veterans at risk of homelessness.
‘STABLE HOUSING IS KEY’
The No Homeless Veterans campaign is backed by athlete and ex-Army sergeant Dame Kelly Holmes.
She said: “Stable housing is key to helping people adjust to all aspects of civilian life — work, family, health and well-being.
“I want to encourage others, and especially those on the front line dealing with homelessness, to ‘think veteran’ and get ex-service personnel in need of help to the support available to them.”
Here, four ex-soldiers explain how they fell victim to homelessness and how the right help led to them turning their lives around.
If you need help or support, visit nohomelessveterans.org.uk.
‘Lot of work still needs to be done’
JOSH CROOKS’ six-year military career came to an end when he fell into a hole on a night training exercise, fracturing his leg in three places.
Despite two years of rehab, he had to leave the Army in 2017.
Single Josh, 29, from Deptford, South London, served abroad in Canada, Germany, Cyprus and Northern Ireland with the Royal Engineers.
He said: “It was the best time of my life.”
But after he was discharged, Josh had to leave his home in Colchester, Essex, because his flatmate was unable to pay his share of the rent.
Josh said: “My parents had downsized. They could put me up on their sofa but it wasn’t practical long-term. I rented a caravan for the winter.”
Two local authorities told him bluntly he would “go to the bottom of the queue” for housing even though he is a veteran.
Then an Army key worker who was helping Josh after he was discharged put him in touch with Stoll – and six weeks later in April 2017, the housing provider had found him a new home.
He said: “I was suffering mental health issues. It was a real low point but Stoll really helped me out.”
Now he wants local authorities to point veterans in the direction of charities that can help. Josh added: “A lot of work still needs to be done.”
‘I didn’t realise I had priority’
FORMER Royal Navy radio operator Tina Fairbrass fled an abusive relationship in 2010 with her toddler.
She said: “Things had got worse and worse and worse, then one day I decided I couldn’t take it any more.”
A friend put her in touch with a domestic violence helpline which got the mum of one and her daughter into a refuge.
But she says her local authority “did nothing” when she turned to it for a permanent place to live.
Tina, 50, from London, said: “I thought I’d be a priority because I was fleeing domestic violence and I had a child under the age of five. I was at the end of my tether.
“Now I know I should have had greater priority because I’m ex-Armed Forces, but they didn’t even ask the question.”
Tina says council staff need to be ‘trained to ask the right questions’[/caption]
Tina joined the Navy in 1989 and supported the Nato mission in war-torn Bosnia during her seven-year military career.
An old Navy comrade told her to call Stoll – and that same day, she and her child were found a flat.
Tina, whose daughter is now 12, is certain that her local authority could have helped her sooner.
She said: “Staff need to be trained to ask the right questions and they need to know the help that’s out there for veterans.”
'Our veterans deserve the best support'
By Ed Tytherleigh, Chief Executive of Stoll
NO ONE who has served their country should be homeless.
Although the majority of veterans are fortunate to make a smooth transition from the Armed Forces, there are still a small number who struggle to make the transition once they have left the military.
The Government’s latest data shows that up to 3,000 homeless veterans a year are being missed and are losing out on the enhanced support and housing available to them.
This is unacceptable. So this week we have launched a campaign to reduce veterans’ homelessness to as close to zero as possible.
The No Homeless Veterans campaign calls on local authorities, charities and advice agencies to identify former servicemen and women and signpost them to the best possible support.
We want local authorities to ask every person who applies for housing whether they are a veteran and to know what to do when they identify one.
If a veteran has exhausted their own routes to housing, they should be referred to an appropriate service so they can find somewhere to live as soon as possible.
Over the coming months we will be travelling up and down the country talking to those working on the homelessness front line to ensure ex-service personnel are given support.
The Government is committed to supporting the Armed Forces community as part of the Armed Forces Covenant.
So it is unacceptable that there are still homeless veterans who are not receiving the help that is available to them.
We are fortunate in this country that there is a wide range of independent and Government-led organisations that provide specialist support to service leavers.
But it is only by identifying veterans early and signposting them to these services that we will put an end to this tragic situation.
If we get this right, we really do have a chance to end homelessness among our veterans.
‘Sent to back of council queue’
WITH nowhere else to go, Londoner Robert Noon ended up homeless earlier this year.
When the former sergeant returned to civvy street more than 20 years ago, he set up his own property maintenance firm and found lodgings with an elderly woman in Chiswick, West London.
The long-standing arrangement came to an end this year when she became too frail to rent out her property.
And with Robert, 63, unable to find anywhere to live because of London’s astronomical rentals, he ended up living rough.
He says: “I was happy and stable and on a peppercorn rent.
“I’m too old to share and the rental prices were sky-high.
‘NO PRIORITY WHATSOEVER’
“Effectively I was starting from ground zero.”
Robert went to his local council and asked for help finding sheltered accommodation.
He says: “ I was told I had no priority whatsoever and as an ex-servicemen, that made no difference.
“They hadn’t even signed the military covenant.”
Robert’s own research then led him to Stoll and he attended a walk-in session.
Within a month he had been housed by the charity – which he calls “absolutely fantastic.”
Like other veterans in the same position, he was bewildered that more local authorities do not make the most of the charities sitting ready to help.
He said of the local council’s lacklustre response: “I was going to be placed at the back of the queue, which basically means you are never getting a house.”
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‘It’s been a life-changer’
WHEN his life spiralled out of control Alan Parementer found himself living rough under London’s Putney Bridge.
It was a far cry from his illustrious service career with the 3rd Battalion Royal Green Jackets, which he joined in 1971.
Alan, 63, says: “After leaving regular service in 1998, I went on to be an Army Cadet Force instructor.
“I did that for nine years and worked in security too. I really enjoyed staying connected to the military, as it had been a part of my life for so long.”
But when his relationship crumbled, Alan was left with nowhere to live.
He said: “I was homeless for 18 months in total and for a few months I lived out under Putney Bridge.
‘I WAS SO WOUND UP’
“I was working at the same time. I’d work all the night shifts I could and stayed in temporary accommodation here and there.
“My boss didn’t understand how I would always come in to work so early and he rumbled that I was homeless.
“It came to a real low when I tried to take my own life in the Thames – I was so wound up in my thoughts.”
After a mate put him in touch with Stoll, he was housed in 2010 and hasn’t looked back since.
Alan ended up sleeping rough under Putney Bridge for a few months while he was homeless[/caption]
He said: “After living a life in the military and being told what to do, the trouble came when I had to make my own decisions.
“I’m so grateful to Stoll. It’s a total life-changer.
“I’d say to any veteran who experiences homelessness that there are lots of services available and they can help.
“There’s a way to move forward.”
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