Louis Boyle has experienced first-hand the pain of homelessness. The 47-year-old, who joined the Army in 1986 at the age of 18 and served for five years, including in Northern Ireland, was brought up in care in Middlesbrough and began drinking heavily from a young age, continuing to do so during his military career. With no family to turn to when he left the services, he ended up on the streets.
“I don’t know anything about my family or relatives, so I was always by myself. I never had mates I could call or live with until I sorted myself out,” he says. “I ended up being homeless in Middlesbrough, sleeping in parks, churchyards and on benches. The longest spell was for about eight months. Then I started getting in trouble with the police and was in and out of prison.”
It was only when he was released from jail that he found out about Thirteen Care and Support, a social housing organisation based in the North-east that runs two residences for veterans who have fallen on hard times.
It found Mr Boyle a space at its five-bedroom property Brims House in Newcastle, where staff booked him into a year-long rehab programme. Afterwards he found his own flat, but now believes he tried to get back on his feet “too quickly”. When he relapsed three months ago, he called the staff at Thirteen again.
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
1/20 Glynn Barrell
Glyn Barrell is among the veterans hoping to benefit from the self-build scheme in Plymouth
2/20 Rachel Holliday
Rachel Holliday is converting a police station into a hostel
3/20 Androcles Scicluna
Veteran Androcles Scicluna says performing boosted his confidence
4/20 Christopher Cole
Christopher Cole, 51, from London, spent three years in the Army but left in 1982
5/20 Maurillia Simpson
Former servicewoman Maurillia Simpson with the medals she won at last year’s Invictus Games
Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
6/20 Martin Rutledge
Head of The Soldiers’ Charity, Martin Rutledge, says charities sometimes allow emotion to dictate their choices
7/20 Ben Griffin
Ben Griffin wants to open people’s eyes to the cycle of political violence
8/20 Robin Horsfall
Robin Horsfall, who fought in the Falklands and helped end the Iranian embassy siege
9/20 Mark Hayward
A bed for the night and food helped Mark Hayward out of misfortune
10/20 Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser, who served in the RAF, at the Veterans Aid hostel in east London
11/20 Dave Henson
Britain's Invictus Games captain Dave Henson says veterans’ charities helped rebuild his life
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
12/20 Hugh Milroy
Hugh Milroy dispels myths about war-zone veterans through his work as the CEO of Veterans Aid
13/20 Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor
Former soldiers Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull under a covenant connecting veterans with employers
14/20 Mark McKillion
Mark McKillion's experience of living on the street eventually left him feeling as though the only way to escape was to end his life. He survived his desperate jump from Westminster Bridge, and VA's help has restored his "faith in humanity"
Nigel, a navy veteran, remembers living on the beach in the run-up to Christmas, when it rained every day for a week. He slept on a bench for seven years whilst suffering from Parkinson's disease.
16/20 Keith Cooper
Before Keith Cooper had his place confirmed at Avondale House in Newcastle, he was working out whether he could afford to buy a tent to live in
17/20 Simon Weston
Simon Weston, a Falklands War veteran, said even something as simple as a cup of tea can be an important step in getting the life of a homeless veteran back on track.
18/20 Ian Palmer, professor of military psychiatry
Ian Palmer, the first professor of military psychiatry to the British Armed Forces, says that the depiction of all ex-service personnel having post-traumatic stress disorder may stop people who really need help from getting it
19/20 Douglas Cameron
Evgeny Lebedev with Douglas Cameron, who had a hernia operation while serving in Burma
Johnnie Shand Kidd
20/20 Veterans Aid
General Sir Mike Jackson, President of ABF The Soldiers' Charity, called for donations to the Homeless Veterans appeal
This time they found him a room in Bibby House, its other property for veterans in Gateshead. “I absolutely love it,” he says. “If you need any support with anything – housing, finance, any other issues – they help you. They know I’m a recovering alcoholic. If I get up in the morning and my head’s upside down, they know where it could take me – prison again, or a gutter or a hospital.”
Bibby House, which opened in 2013, has benefited from grants given by ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, one of two being supported by The Independent’s Christmas appeal in aid of Homeless Veterans. Last year alone, the charity contributed £37,500 towards the house’s running costs.
Mr Boyle believes that if Thirteen hadn’t given him a home when he needed one, he would already be back in jail.
The average length of stay at both Bibby and Brims House is around 12-14 months, with 67 veterans passing through since they opened.
Phil Thompson, who himself spent 31 years in the Army, is the partnership and innovation manager at Thirteen. The aim of the two residences, he says, is to provide “a stepping stone to independent living” for veterans rather than a permanent home. “When they come here they’re in a bad place,” he adds.
“Ninety-five per cent of those leaving the forces do make that transition – we deal with the 5 per cent who have not made it... Sometimes it’s the first time they can actually talk about their experiences to someone who’ll understand. We provide the support to get them to where they need to be.”Reuse content