For most of us it’s hard to imagine becoming homeless, but I know from experience that crisis can strike anyone.
My own was two years ago. Outwardly I was successful. I had a good job, a busy social life and strong, personal relationships. But inwardly things were spiralling out of control.
I was living out of a rucksack in hotel rooms. I wasn’t eating. I’d stopped answering my phone. I experienced prolonged feelings of worthlessness. Eventually my depression was so severe that I became suicidal. A chance phone call from James, my friend and partner in the Connor Brothers, saved my life one night.
He encouraged me to seek help and, after a visit to a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed as bipolar and prescribed mood-stabilising medication. James was uniquely placed to support me. He has experienced crisis first hand: for four years he suffered a heroin addiction that almost claimed his life.
That period of crisis taught me how easily life can become overwhelming, and how fragile a seemingly stable existence really is. For those who don’t manage to find the help they need, the consequences can be catastrophic. For many, homelessness follows. Often this is compounded by addiction or mental-health issues, which either contribute to someone becoming homeless, or occur as a result of it.
Reading statistics about homelessness, it’s easy to forget that behind every number is a person. Likewise, in our daily lives, it’s easy to become blinkered and ignore people who are sleeping rough. We pass them every day on our daily commute – but the pressures of city life make it difficult to ask ourselves who these people are, what their story is, and how they came to be homeless. Sometimes it’s easier to turn a blind eye or tell ourselves there is nothing we can do.
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
What The Independent’s Homeless Veterans Appeal has done brilliantly is to bring to life the personal stories behind the statistics: the stories of people who’ve served in the armed forces, and fallen on difficult times.
It’s shown us that there is no such thing as a stereotypical homeless person. Each person living on the streets has a unique life history, unique challenges to overcome and unique gifts to offer. Reading the personal stories of veterans like Mark McKillion or Paul McEwan helps us realise that homeless people are no different from the rest of us. They are ordinary people who have suffered periods of crisis and deserve to be treated with compassion and dignity.
I know from experience how easily life can become overwhelming, and how circumstances can conspire with disastrous consequences, which is why I have been so moved by the appeal. I know that what people need in periods of extreme vulnerability is non-judgmental, practical and compassionate support.
The Homeless Veterans Appeal, which funds the important work of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and Veterans Aid, will, quite literally, save lives. So, next time you pass someone sleeping rough remember Mark or Paul, and stop and ask: ‘What’s your story?’ The chances are you’ll be surprised.
Mike SnelleReuse content