Shevron Louis was born in St Lucia, but always felt a natural affinity with Britain. As a young man he worked for a French construction company, but after a few years he began hankering for a new challenge and decided to join the British Army.
“I wanted to do something new,” he recalled. “Obviously England fought for my country so it was a sort of payback thing. I always wanted to travel, and there’s nowhere else I wanted to go other than England. I wanted to come here, join the Army, then go back home and feel like the king.”
The 29-year-old said Britain felt like a “big freezer” when he arrived in the country for the first time in 2009. Having kept fit in St Lucia by running on the beach, he breezed through his Army training and served for three years with The Yorkshire Regiment, including in the Falklands.
But he said “everything changed” when he sustained an injury and was medically discharged. Suddenly, he found himself alone in his adopted country with nowhere to go – and only 28 days to decide whether to apply to work in Britain or return home.
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
“When I first came out of the Army, if somebody told me to go left I would go left,” he said. “I was lost. No-one really said anything to me – I didn’t know where to go or what to do. In the Army I was getting praised, but the minute I was downgraded nobody spoke to me.”
Mr Louis is one of many foreign-born veterans who have served in the UK Armed Forces only to find themselves in immigration limbo afterwards. The military charity Veterans Aid, one of two being supported by The Independent’s appeal, recently reported a rise in the number of ex-servicemen and women seeking help for similar reasons.
Mr Louis applied for a work permit, but the complex application process left him facing high legal fees and delays of more than six months, during which time he was unable to work. He sold his car to cover the costs and was forced to live in a loft in East London, before contacting Veterans Aid for help.
The charity gave him free advice about his case before offering him a post as a volunteer while he waited for his work permit to be approved. He now believes he would have become homeless if he had not approached the charity for help. “It was a very upsetting time for me. I would just break down in tears sometimes,” he said.
When his paperwork was in order, Veterans Aid also paid for him to attend a training course. He now works as a scaffolder and says he intends to apply for indefinite leave to remain and then full British citizenship. “I support England 100 per cent. I like England,” he said.
The other charity being supported by The Independent’s appeal, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, has given grants to many foreign-born veterans. One of them is Jessica Joseph, 37, who like Mr Louis is originally from St Lucia. She joined the British Army in 2002 because she wanted to see more of the world, leaving in 2013 after being deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
The Soldiers’ Charity gave her a £500 grant when she left her Army accommodation and moved into a flat in West Sussex, which she used to pay for bedroom furniture, a table and chairs. “When I found out, I said a prayer to God saying thank you so much, and said that over and over to my case worker,” she said.
“I like to recognise people who do good things for me so just kept saying thank you so much. It helped make the flat a home for my daughter. People shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes you just need it, Army or not. It helped me and my daughter a lot, we can call here home now so I’m very grateful for that.”Reuse content