Homeless Scottish veteran tells of his journey back to work

By Gerald Lennon
BBC Scotland News website

Image source, Beam
Image caption,
Terry found it difficult to adjust to life after he finished serving

A veteran from the Highlands has been telling of his journey from being a mechanic in a bomb disposal team, to ending up homeless in someone's attic to rebuilding his life through work.

Terry, from Inverness, spent seven years serving in the British Army, on tour in Northern Ireland, Belize, Germany and Iraq.

He speaks positively about his time there but after he returned home Terry struggled to adjust, often finding it challenging to complete mundane tasks, interacting with people and pay bills.

"I just lost all respect for myself. I found it very difficult just coping with things after I left the Army," he says.

"Paying bills, in the Army everything is normally done for you. Coping with other people, civilians, is a completely different way of life. Soldiers are different and dealing with civilians can be a bit strange sometimes. I don't know why."

Things got on top of Terry, living by himself in London, the cost of living was high, paying rent became difficult and soon events spiralled out of control. He ended up drinking rather than paying his rent and eventually lost his flat.

In 2014 Terry became homeless; he was offered a place in someone's loft and started living in the attic - but quickly the situation became awkward and Terry began to hide away.

The attic had no windows or artificial light, leaving Terry to spend the day alone and sneaking out at night to drink.

'Lost everything'

Terry said: "It was freezing cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer. I wasn't able to use the facilities there and I couldn't use the kitchen or even the bathroom.

"I just couldn't handle seeing my flatmate. It was very uncomfortable - I was extremely depressed and not motivated about life in general.

"I got my dole money and would go to Morrisons to buy bottles of cider and drink that. I used to sit up in the room and wouldn't get out of bed if I knew someone was downstairs.

"I had to sit in pitch black basically until I thought there was no-one in and then I would sneak out and go sit in the park with friends."

Image source, Beam
Image caption,
Terry was 21-years-old when he joined the army as an engineer

Terry spent a year-and-a-half living in this attic, filling his days with drinking and avoiding his "flatmate" below the loft. Terry says he always felt guilty and ashamed about his situation and it was only then he accepted that he was homeless. Terry says he hit "rock bottom" and needed help to get out of his situation.

He was put in touch with Combat Stress, a mental health support service for veterans, and was then passed over to Veterans Aid (VA), a charity that helps ex-servicemen and women in crisis.

One of the workers at VA offered Terry the chance to enter a rehab programme, as long as he worked hard and followed the programme. Terry has been sober for two-years now and also quit smoking.

Sense of purpose

"I was quite lucky with Veterans Aid. I was turning 50 and I thought 'If I'm going to change my life I need to change it now'.

"It's been two years since I've touched drink or drugs or anything. But it's Veteran's Aid that helped me."

Last November Terry got in touch with Beam, a tech platform which helps homeless people raise money through crowdfunding, to help with employment training and support them as they make the transition back to work.

Through a campaign, Terry has raised £10,375 in contributions from 850 Beam supporters. He has used the money to help get him into a plumbing course. Now a Level-2 plumber, he has finished his gas foundation course and has completed his portfolio.

Image source, Beam
Image caption,
Terry started his career disposing bombs in the army to training to be an engineer

Terry said: "The campaigns have provided me with training, but it has given me purpose. I feel more confident, and it has given me better opportunities for work."

Terry believes people are more willing to donate their money to somewhere like Beam, because he thinks there is still a trust issue with people giving their money to a homeless person sitting in the street.

"My perception has changed completely. I used to think [homeless] people were wasting time... but now I realise that people have serious problems and it's not their fault most of the time.

"A lot of people have more mental health problems. People are proud and don't want to speak about it. A lot of people want help and need help. Not every homeless person is on drugs, sometimes people genuinely need help."

'Second chance'

The transition for Terry after leaving the Army was tough for him, something he fears still affects many ex-soldiers today.

"For some people, they're not used to paying bills and doing normal things that normal people take for granted. It's a very difficult step for people to take.

"I don't think it's very easy for people. I just knew for me I wanted my own front door, somewhere where I could feel safe and secure. That was the problem living in someone's loft and not being able to afford life I suppose.

"It's difficult for people when they come out of the Army, the transition is not easy. I don't think the Army helps people enough."

Image source, Beam
Image caption,
With Beam's help, Terry has managed to raise £10,375

On 14 November 2018, the UK government released policy papers as part of a strategy to help veterans. The strategy aims to continue to empower and support veterans.

Douglas Young, the former chairman of British Armed Forces Federation, said: "I would give the armed forces and other agencies including the Scottish government some credit for their increasing attention to the challenges of transition back to civilian life.

"Successful transition can be influenced by what happens throughout your career and not just in your last six months, so transition needs to be hard wired into the mind-set. Issues like physical and mental injury rightly get a lot of attention but the loss of belonging to a community can be a factor too.

"I would urge people with experience of such issues to check out the current UK government consultation on Veteran Strategy."

Something good

Terry is still homeless; he is currently living in a temporary hostel but has a plan to get back on his feet. Using his recent training, his goal is to work as a gas safety engineer.

"With Beam, you can see something good coming out of it at the end, coming to fruition," he adds. "For me I'll be fully trained and this time next year I'll be helping Beam to help someone else.

"It will come full circle; I'll be helping someone else get back on their feet."

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