Poets of Loss grew out of five years of research with Liverpool’s homeless community.  This programme of work began with research and development asking almost 100 people with experience of homelessness if and how theatre for social change might be a useful tool.  People asked for creative workshops to develop skills and offer a diversion from the difficulties of daily life, for the chance to have their voices heard through performance and for us to create a large scale professional piece that would challenge stereotypes about homelessness and encourage people to think in a different way.  To find out more about the project and its development over the last five years visit these pages.

Poets of Loss tells the story of a man returned from war.  Unable to readjust to civilian life after participating in such horror and atrocity he’s forced onto the street.  Finally he can take no more and decides to end his life.  The opera shows his dying moments as he seeks comfort in the arms of the street woman.

Unfortunately this is not an uncommon story.  An investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme recently found the number of suicides among soldiers and army veterans last year was much higher than previously reported, with more than 50 cases of soldiers taking their own lives – more than were killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2012.

Homelessness amongst ex-service personnel is widespread, with several factors making this group of people more vulnerable than the population at large.  Our research has shown that ex-service personnel who struggle to adjust to civilian life frequently fall into one of four categories:

  • Individuals who have been vulnerable since childhood or adolescence maybe through difficult relationships with their parents, experience of the care system; maybe problem drinking or involvement in criminal activity.
  • People who have encountered difficulties while in the armed forces such as the onset of alcohol or mental health problems which continued to affect them after discharge.
  • Many who have had a very successful career in the armed forces but found adjustment to civilian life very difficult.
  • Those who had a successful career in the armed forces and did not encounter difficulties until an apparently unrelated event such as bereavement, relationship breakdown.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a serious mental health condition, is increasingly common in soldiers returning from combat.  For information about the homeless situation regarding Britain’s returned soldiers, visit Homeless Link’s dedicated pages.  Their research is solution-oriented, and offers practical things to campaign for.  Their primary recommendations are:

  • raising awareness in the Forces around Early Service Leavers;
  • being more proactive in monitoring the wellbeing of service people after discharge;
  • breaking the ‘shame’ barrier felt by service personnel when accepting help, and greater provision of move-on accommodation for those not ready to deal with independent tenancies.

Contact your local councillor/MP/MEP, and/or start a campaign to support these recommendations and raise awareness of the problems.

If you’re interested to dig deeper, the Royal British Legion have published research on homelessness and ex-service personnel.  The Legion are currently campaigning for local authorities to take up the Community Covenant scheme initiated by government to promote greater understanding between the military and civilian populations.

You will find lists of UK organisations supporting ex-service personnel and their contact details 50plusworks and at Veterans UK.