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Homeless soldiers abandoned to the streets
Homeless soldiers are a “sad legacy” on the streets of Sussex.
Veterans suffering from the trauma of war are sleeping rough, living alone and struggling to adapt to civilian life after returning from the battlefield.
As many as one in five rough sleepers in Sussex served their country before falling on hard times.
More than 15 ex-servicemen and women are known to be sleeping rough in Brighton and Hove - with as many as 50 homeless across the county.
However the numbers could be considerably higher, because many proud former soldiers try to hide their past.
Many are crippled by severe post traumatic stress or gripped by drink and drugs.
Max, 36, is an ex-soldier who served in Northern Ireland left the army 14 years ago.
He is now an alcoholic living on the streets of Brighton with his girlfriend.
Max, not his real name, said: “I was in Belfast and something really bad happened to me.
“I left the army but I got no support at all. Soon I was living on the streets because I didn't have any money or anywhere to go.
“Me and my girlfriend have been in Brighton for nine months now and we've been really struggling.
“You think when you serve your country you'd get supported - but I wasn't.”
Sergeant Richard Siggs, who leads Sussex Police's Street Community team in Brighton and Hove, said: “We currently have a number of homeless individuals that are informing us that they are ex-military.
“They have experienced trauma in their service and are suffering from stress.
“One man I know was on board a boat that was blown up in the Falklands. Others have recently come back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Most of them have not been able to deal with a return to civilian life and some are begging.
“It's our duty to return these brave men to civilian life as quickly as possible.”
Former paratrooper Nick Zaver, who became homeless after 18 years serving in Northern Ireland and the Falklands, now runs a charity to help former veterans who have fallen on hard times.
Mr Zaver said: “It's a really sad legacy on every single one of us as members of a society that we can let people who have served their country end up like this.
“It is something that has been increasing. There are lots of soldiers coming back from Afghanistan and with defence cuts we will be starting to see people who have been serving longer periods of time.
“I ended up homeless and sleeping in my car for three month. I couldn't get any help. I was begging and begging.
“I ended up being moved from place to place staying with druggies and alcoholics and fighters.
“I dedicated my life to Queen and country. The guys we are meeting have given their lives for their country and have ended up with nothing, the lowest of the low.”
Jerry, a former soldier who has been getting help from Mr Zaver's Brighton charity, Where Do I Belong said: “I would like to live what I consider a normal life. I want to go out and be sociable with people without feeling afraid.
“I would like to be how I used to be when I enjoyed the company of others and when I felt I fitted in. I would like to be able to sleep without having to take a sleeping tablet and be able to go to bed at a normal hour, instead of staying up to 5 or 6am. I want to get back the respect from people.”
Andy, another homeless former serviceman said: “I do not like to be trapped or feel I am locked into a schedule or routine I can't keep. As I have to manage my mental health issues on a daily, sometimes moment-to-moment basis.
“I am not a well person. I have learned to manage my issues in an appropriate manner, but it's not easy being me or living in my world.
“The horrors and traumas I have witnessed still haunt me. I am damaged and still broken inside, even if I put on a brave front I am still crippled inside.”
Veteran Gary Jones served in the Royal Army Medical Corps for five years until 1986.
He ended up living on the streets of Brighton for a year and a half suffering the daily “flashbacks and night terrors” after finding the bodies of women and children.
Rickey Burnham a former Private with the 13 Air Assault Regiment ended up sleeping rough at Lewes train station after becoming haunted by the mutilated bodies he had seen on the front line in Iraq. His marriage broke down and his relationship with his mother deteriorated because of his mood swings and he ended up on the streets.
Mark Morgan's life spiralled out of control after he experienced the Omargh bombing.
The former soldier with the Royal Regiment of Wales, spent 18 months on the streets often sleeping on Brighton beach, under the Palace Pier or in shop doorways.
Alan Merry, client support officer for the Royal British Legion in Sussex, works with 150 to 200 former service men a year. Most are homeless or facing the threat of homelessness.
He said: “A lot of our youngsters are coming back from fighting very unpopular conflicts and they are suffering.
“Many joined the forces to escape chaos or to escape a dysfunctional family.
“The armed forces become their only means of support. Often when they leave the forces it's like they lose the only family they've ever known.
“If they don't have any local connection then the council has no duty to provide for them.
“We are the main providers of welfare because the authorities don't have the resources to help.
“They are certainly out there in large numbers and the problem could be even worse because many won't even tell us they are ex-military because they are incredibly proud individuals.”
The Royal British Legion help serving and former servicemen and women and their dependents.
They can be contacted on 08457 725 725.
The Soldiers Charity helps army personnel and their families and can offer financial support.
Call 0845 241 4820 or visit www.soldierscharity.org Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help run a confidential helpline for service personnel who are absent without leave on 01380 738137.
Combat Stress offer help for men and women of all ranks suffering from psychiatric disability who have served in the Armed Forces or Merchant Navy.
Call 01372 587000 or visit www.combatstress.org.uk.
Where Do I Belong offer support to help veterans in the Brighton and Hove area to live independently. Visit www.helpforveterans.org.uk.