Evgeny Lebedev

Help Us Make a Difference to the Lives of Those Ex-servicemen and Women Struggling on Civvy Street

Huffington Post Tuesday 10 February 2015

Daz Mallard, 40, joined the army at 17. He tried working as a postman and bus driver when he left, but it was then that his hardest battle began. Daz fought growing addictions to drugs and alcohol, until in September 2013, "homeless, hungry and depressed," he was put in touch with Veterans Aid by a police officer.

The charity bought him lunch and put him up in a hotel. He spent five months in rehab and now has his own flat in Tooting, south London.

It is stories like these which drew me to dedicate the Evening Standard and Independent titles’s annual appeal to helping homeless veterans. In Russia, where I was born during the Soviet war with Afghanistan, we were taught to unconditionally respect our returning veterans – regardless of whether we agreed ideologically with the reasons they had been sent to war.

It’s an axiom that has stuck with me ever since. Later, having moved to the UK, I was struck by the indifference, and sometimes disrespect, shown to veterans in this country: the derision of the poppy, and – most of all – the way some ex-servicemen and women were left out on the streets after they had returned home from fighting abroad.

It’s a phenomenon that astounded me then and still astounds me now. Don’t those that have already put themselves in harm’s way deserve better than a sheet of cardboard for a bed?

Of course, most of the UK’s 4.6million former servicemen and women manage to readjust to noncombatant life, but for some, civvy street is a more challenging place than fighting on the frontline. That is why this year we are supporting two charities whose work is crucial in preventing homelessness among ex-servicemen and women, and helping those who have fallen on hard times to get back up again.

ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, the national charity of the British Army, gives grants to more than 5,000 people every year, as well as essential funds to other, smaller charities with specific expertise in helping both serving and former soldiers, as well as their families.

Meanwhile, Veterans Aid provide direct on-site help to ex-servicemen and women: running a drop-in centre near Victoria Station in central London, as well as a hostel in east London.

During the last two months our campaign has been attempting to further the work of these organisations. We have gathered support from people all over the world, fromAndy McNab to the Archbishop of Canterbury, to Angelina Jolie to Bryan Adams. And, although you many not be enamored with them, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have all firmly backed the cause, as have Prince CharlesPrince William, and the Queen.

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Last month Boris Johnson and I spent a night sleeping on London’s streets, in a bid to raise awareness and money for the campaign. It was only a passing glimpse of the struggles faced by those forced out on to the streets, but it clearly had an effect on the Mayor, who later pledged £200,000 of his Greater London Authority budget to Veterans Aid, one of the charities we are working in tandem with.

Grayson Perry was also touched by the campaign, and is currently working on an artwork that will be auctioned in the coming months to add to our growing total. A couple of weeks ago the two of us met with ex-servicemen who had been brought in from the cold by Veterans Aid, and their stories will now form the basis of a visual representation for our campaign. I’m looking forward to visiting him at his studio in the near future to see how he’s getting on.

Through all of this, we have been overwhelmed by the response of readers both in theIndependent and Evening Standard, but we still have work to do. Veterans Aid, with the money we make for them, plan to rebuild their hostel for homeless veterans in Limehouse. If we raise the funds we aim to, the hostel will house 70 of the homeless at any one time. The current number of homeless veterans in London stands at around 120-150, so with the beds we’ll be able to provide after our campaign, we should be able to almost half that number.

I hope you will help us achieve our aim – especially during this harsh winter, which has seen temperatures drop to their coldest now in three years. Any donation you provide makes a very real difference to the lives of those ex-servicemen and women struggling to make a dignified life for themselves on civvy street. They served their country, now we need to serve them.

To donate to our Homeless Veterans campaign, click here

Evgeny Lebedev is the owner of The Independent and Evening Standard newspapers

Nigel Howard