'I was in a dark, dark place' - how new funding will help homeless veterans in South Yorkshire

A veteran who ended up homeless with her young son after leaving the Army has spoken of the difference new funding will make for people like her in South Yorkshire.

Wednesday, 2nd October 2019, 3:54 pm
Updated Friday, 4th October 2019, 3:54 pm

Help 4 Homeless Veterans is getting £90,000 to expand its work with those struggling to adapt to civilian life on their departure from the armed forces.

The extra funding, announced yesterday by Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, will enable the charity which already supports homeless veterans in Barnsley and Doncaster to reach those in Sheffield and Rotherham.

Amber Guymer-Hosking knows only too well the difference that money could make, having turned to the charity in her darkest hour and received the help she needed to get her life back on track.

Amber Guymer-Hosking during her time in the Army

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The 31-year-old joined the Army in 2005, when she was just 16, and served in countries including Afghanistan, Canada and Malaysia as a combat medical technician assisting with the treatment of casualties.

After being medically discharged in 2016, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and with a young son to care for, she experienced a huge culture shock.

She ended up homeless – sofa-surfing, borrowing money to pay for hotel rooms and staying with her son in a hostel where she says drug use was rife – before seeking the support of Help 4 Homeless Veterans.

Amber Guymer-Hosking today

“Because I was in the Army so long, having joined as a teenager, I found it really difficult adjusting to life on civvy street,” said Amber, who suffers nightmares and flashbacks to the horrors she experienced in service and cannot stomach the smell of cooking bacon as it reminds her of human flesh.

“Even the simple things like paying bills or putting out the bins, which you don’t have to worry about in the Army, can make that transition so hard.

“With my PTSD I was in a bad place, and I didn’t continue getting support after being discharged. It felt like I was getting thrown in straight at the deep end.”

Amber Guymer-Hosking spent 11 years in the Army, after joining as a 16-year-old in 2005

Help 4 Homeless Veterans provided accommodation for Amber and her son, now aged eight, in Doncaster, and gave her the support she needed, from helping with everyday tasks like shopping to getting her therapy and ensuring she had the advice and training she needed to find a fulfilling career.

Thanks to its assistance, Amber is now studying English and maths, and working towards a fitness diploma, she has her own home in Sussex, where she grew up, and she has has just launched a business running fitness boot camps.

“I feel my life’s turned around and I’m in a better place mentally. The charity helped me get through that dark, dark place of having nothing, and I couldn’t have done what I have without its support,” she said.

“I feel there needs to be more support for veterans, especially during that first year of transition, and hopefully this new funding will make a difference for other people who find themselves in my position.

“The biggest thing was dropping that ego, which is a big thing for soldiers, because you have so much pride and to admit you’re struggling is really difficult. Only when I reached breaking point could I bring myself to ask for help.”

The funding announced by Mr Jarvis, with the support of Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster councils, and the South Yorkshire Armed Forces Covenant Group, comes from the Government’s Homelessness Veterans Fund.

It will pay for additional training for front-line staff and help the charity, which has supported some 500 veterans since being set up in Barnsley in 2012, to extend its reach to those in Sheffield and Rotherham who find themselves in need.

Mr Jarvis said: “Most service leavers go on to achieve great things in civilian life, using the invaluable experience and transferable skills gained in the military. But as someone who had the honour of serving in the armed forces myself, I understand the challenges some people can face when leaving the forces.

“That’s why I’m using the small amount of funding that has been provided by the Government to boost the work of an important charity based here in South Yorkshire.

“In one of the richest economies in the world, no one should be without a home, especially those who’ve risked their life serving our country. It’s time that we recognise our service men and women in a manner that befits their sacrifice and better support them in the transition from military to civilian life.”

The funding announcement comes in the week new figures revealed the number of homeless people dying on the streets of Sheffield tripled from five in 2017 to 15 last year.

Across England and Wales, there were more than 720 deaths during 2018, representing the biggest year-on-year increase since records began.

The Big Issue last week launched its No Homeless Veterans campaign, as it revealed how more than 1,700 homeless veterans were identified by local authority housing services, with experts believing those figures fail to account for over 3,500 people.

Steve Bentham-Bates, chief executive of Help 4 Homeless Veterans, who himself spent 24 years in the forces, said: “This investment will help us help even more of the most vulnerable veterans across South Yorkshire.

“Sometimes the biggest problem isn’t when they first leave because everything’s new and exciting. It can be a few years down the line when they’ve been unable to find a fulfilling career, things have become pretty boring and something’s preying on their mind from what they experienced in the forces.

“People can easily end up self-medicating through drugs and alcohol, their relationship can break down and before you know it that ex-soldier is sleeping on the street, which is sadly not uncommon.”