Act of kindness registers with homeless Veterans


May 15, 2012

A chance meeting between two busy rail commuters lead to a rewarding organisational partnership when the CEO of Veterans Aid and Head of Facilities at Land Registry got chatting. ‘I’m a shameless networker when it comes to spreading the word about that we do in the veterans community,” said ex-RAF officer Dr Hugh Milroy “and the familiar faces on my early morning journey into London each day are a captive audience!”

Fellow commuter Jan Lloyd proved a willing listener and the pair were soon discussing how best the two organisations could work together. “Listening to Hugh talk about the challenges Veterans Aid faces, yet hearing how help and assistance gives veterans the opportunity to get back on track, was moving” said Jan who wasted no time in telling her Land Registry colleagues about the Victoria-based charity.

Land Registry Head Office’s move from its historic Lincolns Inn Fields premises to Croydon left the organisation with a surplus of good quality furniture – something Veterans Aid is always on the look out for. “No costs were incurred in making the donations as staff from the charity collected the items themselves “ said Jan “and being able to help veterans, even in such a small way, is very rewarding.” Veterans Aid has been working to help ex-Servicemen and women in crisis for nearly 80 years; first as the Embankment Fellowship Centre, then the Ex-Services Fellowship Centre. It morphed into its present identity, Veterans Aid, just a few years ago and has not looked back.

“Our new brand invigorated us,” explained Hugh. “It’s ‘roof’ logo says it all; we provide shelter for the homeless and a refuge for all veterans in crisis – no matter when or where they served, regardless of age, gender, location or length of service. Not all those who come to us are heroes – indeed the most heroic thing many have done is pluck up the courage to ask for help, and that can be very hard. Some have deep-seated addictions, to alcohol, drugs or gambling; others are on the rebound from relationship breakdowns, legal problems, debt, ill health, and unemployment . . . all the things that affect everyone in life.

Myths about homeless in the Veteran community abound, as do reports about the numbers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but as Hugh is quick to point “One veteran in distress is one too many and while I wish there was no need for our charity to exist, that day has not yet come!” ‘VA’ however, is a very upbeat place. “Be in no doubt about it, we ARE making a difference and we have very few failures,” says Hugh.

“Last year we took around 2,000 calls for help, provided about 20,000 nights of accommodation, got people back into employment and education. Each month we put an average of four people into detox facilities – and are there for them when they come out. Our welcoming, friendly hostel in East London is home to around 60 people who stay an average of nine months before moving on to homes of their own – and that is where we need friends like Land Registry.”

Every Veteran who moves into accommodation with the help of VA does so with support. No-one gets the key to shabby, unfurnished premises and is left to fend for themselves. “That would be just setting them up for failure,” said Hugh. “Moving on is a rite of passage and we want it to be a happy, memorable help. Staff make sure that new homes are cleaned, painted, carpeted and equipped with new or good quality second-hand furniture. The icing on the cake comes when organisations like Land Registry get behind us.”

The charity has a rule of taking no ‘cast-offs’ but regards the Land Registry donations as good as new. “The hostel staff and residents are delighted with the tables, chairs and clothes and have asked me to pass on their thanks,” said Hugh. “Our hostel – new Belvedere House – is a home for those who live there, not a holding pen. Everyone who comes through its doors has been utterly alone. It takes time for them to relax and realise that they are in a place of safety – a place with books, plants, clocks, mirrors – and all the other things that never feature in a rough sleeper’s life. We have a gym, TV room, garden area and an IT facility – all made possible by supporters like Land Registry.”