Soldiers Off The Streets

A free residence for homeless Veterans is set to open in North Ayrshire and is the first of its kind in Scotland.

By Paul Rodger

The shelter, situated in Irvine, will house up to eight ex-Service personnel, many likely to be mentally and physically afflicted as the result of combat. It features purpose-built bedrooms and is fully kitted out with Wi-Fi, washing and cooking facilities for people in need.

Scottish coordinator for the charity, Soldiers Off The Street, Walter Hamilton, is the man behind the project and told us about the situation many ex-Forces personnel find themselves in, saying: “There are a lot of issues; you’ve got a lot of marriage breakups, people losing their jobs and becoming homeless because they’ve lost their home.

“We’re opening a house in Irvine. It’s the only one of its kind in Scotland that’s going to be totally free, with no utility charges at all, and it’s going to be funded by members of the public.

“It’s going to be called the ‘Craig Barber House’. He was a Royal Engineer we rehoused three years ago who worked with the charity and sadly died of cancer in January.”

Fundraising

Walter bought the two semi-detached houses with his own money, and through dedicated fundraising and the commitment and hard work of volunteers, the vision of renovating the rundown properties into two shelters for vulnerable Veterans is slowly becoming a reality.

Many ex-Personnel suffer from mental health issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and problems with alcohol or substance abuse upon returning to civilian life and so finding safe accommodation can be the difference between life and death.

Such was the case for former Soldier, Darren Greenfield, 47, who died on the streets of Edinburgh in January. Having Served in the Royal Tank Regiment, Darren’s death as a result of destitution caused widespread anger among charities and Veterans’ organisations.

Support

Chief executive of Veterans Association UK and Northern Ireland Veteran, Tony Hayes, cited lack of government provision as a problem in Scotland, saying: “In Scotland it’s even tougher because they govern under a different law. We have in the past rehoused several Veterans in Scotland and got them into treatment [for alcohol or drug abuse] but it’s a bit harder up there than it is in Wales or England. I don’t believe there’s national provision in place for Veterans at this stage.”

Homelessness is an issue for those leaving the Armed Forces. With waiting times for social housing taking up to eight weeks, many Veterans find themselves with no alternative but to sleep rough.

Currently, ex-Service personnel in need of accommodation – upon adding their name to the housing register – can stay in homeless shelters, hostels, temporary flats or Veterans’ residencies. However, all of these come with costs for rent and additional living expenses, such as meals and laundry charges.

Scottish Veterans’ Residences (SVR), with accommodation based in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, charge £30 to £40 for Veterans on benefits. If a Veteran is working, then charges will be higher than if they’re able to claim housing benefit. A spokesperson for the organisation said: “If they’re earning money parttime then we get less housing benefit and therefore their service charge and rent would be more.”

Volunteers

The renovation work on Craig Barber House has been carried out by volunteers. Since last November volunteer bricklayers, electricians and joiners have all been lending their skills to the cause.

Project manager, Brian Gibson, said: “Over two months we’ve got to this stage, all through volunteers, not one person has been paid for any work they’ve done. We’ve bought material; other than that it’s just people volunteering their time and labour to get it done. About 95% of people who have been down here helping have been ex-Services or they know someone who’s been in the Military.”

Expressing his excitement at completing the project, he said: “I’m keen to get this finished and get everybody down to see it and say, ‘There you go, we can do it. People who pulled together, got an idea in our heads and we’ve done it’.”

Donations towards the construction of the house can be made at: www.sots-scotland.co.uk

About Soldiers Off the Street

Soliders Off the Street have been a registered charity since 26 August 2010 with a dedicated group of people determined to help the forgotten ex-service personnel whose lives have been affected by homelessness. They all believe the veterans deserve better after going through the traumatic experience of war in far-off lands, what they have been through for the country they love, to be forgotten and homeless is a national disgrace. They intend to put right for as many as they can!

 

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