Written by Joel Oxberry
As with most major cities in the UK, you do not have to travel far in Manchester to see people sleeping rough. It has always affected me but I have never tackled the issue head on, choosing instead, like most, to put the situation to the back of my mind. Not out of disrespect, but out of awkwardness brought on by the fact I cannot begin to comprehend what that person is going through, a powerlessness to help and a feeling that my face would give away my emotions.
I have always had to be personally invested in the organisation I am working for. Coming from a background in Sales, I know the importance passion has on encouraging others to “buy into” your proposition. That philosophy is no different now that I am in a Fundraising capacity. Through representing Walking With The Wounded, I was aware that not knowing what it was like to be homeless made me feel a fraud when encouraging others to support the WWTW cause which ultimately looks out for veterans that are mentally and socially disadvantaged after having served their country.
With this in mind, I recently slept outdoors in Manchester. My journey was an easy one. Sleeping out at Lancashire County Cricket Club, I was not subject to the grittiness attributed to the city centre. I came prepared for the elements and was relatively sheltered. Overall, I made my experience as good as it could be. Despite that, it was a humbling one. Laying there with the concrete floor digging into my hips, the noises of my surroundings were amplified to me. There were people talking, but their faces were unclear in the darkness and their direction even harder to decipher. People brushing past me as they walked by. It was hard not to feel vulnerable, even though rationally, I knew there was no need to be. I spent all night thinking about getting home and that is when it hit me; how incomprehensible it is for most us to imagine not having a place to call home.
The true figure for homeless veterans is unknown. In 2018, The Royal British Legion estimated 6,000 veterans were homeless; by this though, they do not mean sleeping rough, but instead refer to wider homeless agenda – sofa-surfing, living out of cars and generally with no permanent residence. Whatever the true figure, and whatever that veteran’s situation in my opinion, it is shouldn’t be happening.
I have had the privilege of hearing first-hand accounts of veterans that have or are sleeping on the streets. Matthew, one such veteran, said to me “I was prepared for a fight when I joined the Regiment, but I didn’t expect to be fighting for basic rights such as a roof over my head when I left”.
Matthew spent months suffering with depression, turned to drugs to mask this and finally found himself on the streets when his relationship with his ex-partner broke down. He was spat on by some members of the public and was close to committing suicide.
No veteran should ever find himself or herself in this position.
Thankfully, Matthew reached out to Walking With The Wounded and we sourced him housing, drug support, qualifications and a job in construction. He is doing well now, but his story could have been so different.
Despite it all, the sleeping out, the research on the stats and the first-hand accounts, I will never be able to fully comprehend what hitting rock bottom feels like. The difference is, I am not shying away from that now and I am just grateful that I have been lucky enough to avoid it. That should not, and it does not, stop me trying to help those that have already given so much to their country. It should not stop you either.