Phil Cox: We must save soldiers from fate of Waverley Steps veteran

Darren Greenfield served with the Royal Tank Regiment but found himself homeless after leaving the military
Darren Greenfield served with the Royal Tank Regiment but found himself homeless after leaving the military
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The death of Darren Greenfield at 47 shows homeless ex-service personnel need our help, writes Phil Cox.

A very poignant story about Army veteran Darren Greenfield, who died after living on the streets in Edinburgh at the age of 47, appeared in the media last week.

Phil Cox is chief executive of the charity Scottish Veterans Residences

Phil Cox is chief executive of the charity Scottish Veterans Residences

Mr Greenfield served with the Royal Tank Regiment throughout the 90s but, after leaving the military, he found himself homeless.

As an ex-serviceman he was supported by Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR) for a short period but had opted to move on to another housing provider.

As a charity focused on helping UK veterans who fall on hard times, we are deeply saddened by this tragic loss. We can only hope it will serve as a reminder of the issues that impact some of the men and women who have served our country’s Armed Forces and their need for our support.

READ MORE: Homeless Edinburgh soldier of Waverley Steps dies aged 47

Scottish Government data from 2016/17 shows there were 800 homeless applications where one of the household was a veteran. 

While this figure gives us an overview of the issue, we believe it probably underestimates the extent of the problem – we know from the day-to-day work we do with veterans that many are reluctant to ask for help should they ever find themselves facing homelessness. They are therefore less likely to make a formal application to a local authority for housing.

Another factor in getting to grips with the problem is that few of the homeless veterans who come to us are sleeping rough.

Many are flitting between friends and family on a temporary basis or in need of housing because of a relationship breakdown.

READ MORE: Tributes paid to ‘good as gold’ former soldier

What is clear is that those who are in that position need help or they risk the prospect of life on the streets and the downward spiral in health and well-being that accompanies such circumstances.

The encouraging news is that help is at hand. The challenge is to ensure veterans as well as the wider public are aware of the support out there, so they can ensure that ex-Armed Forces friends or family members can be guided in the right direction should they ever need it. While SVR has seen a steady increase in the numbers we have supported every year since 2012, we are usually able to find accommodation for veterans in one of the three residences we currently operate across Scotland, including Whitefoord House in Edinburgh and Rosendael near Dundee. Through the generous support of donors and some additional grants from government, we were also able to expand our operations, opening a new site in Glasgow a few years back to widen the safety net we can provide.

The tragic story of Mr Greenfield is compounded by the fact that other UK veterans also find themselves on the streets or without their own accommodation.

Along with other factors that can lead to homelessness, ex-service people can be further impacted by limited social connections – if they have moved around a lot during their career – while others can be affected by the traumas experienced in a combat situation. 

Regardless of the circumstances, there is a support network out there for veterans.

Charities like ours are helping and keen to do more. Please spread the word.

Phil Cox is chief executive of Scottish Veterans Residences