Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Aid for veterans

May 18 2009
Milroy: ‚Äö?Ñ??Some people just need a bit of TLC, for someone to recognise them as a veteran‚Äö?Ñ?? Milroy: ‚Äö?Ñ??Some people just need a bit of TLC, for someone to recognise them as a veteran‚Äö?Ñ??
Hugh Milroy and the rest of the EFC team are giving the ex-servicemen‘s charity a birthday facelift As the Ex-Service Fellowship Centre (EFC) enters its 75th year, chief executive Hugh Milroy and the rest of the team are giving the charity something of a birthday facelift. It's now called Veteran's Aid. The charity has come a long way from its humble roots on the Embankment. EFC first ran a canteen and recreational centre for ex-servicemen back in 1932. Now, the organisation boasts a drop-in centre in Victoria and an award-winning hostel in Stepney. Dr Milroy is a firm believer in combining the best of old and new. He said: "This is a new era for the charity, but every change we make is built on the tradition of the last 75 years." As part of this new phase, the charity is re-branding. EFC is now called Veteran's Aid, which the group hopes will better reflect the wealth of services and support offered by the organisation. "We deal with many more things than just homelessness," said Dr Milroy. "We help vulnerable veterans, whether they need a small loan, clothing, or advice on benefits or employment. We are a one-stop shop." "Roughly six per cent of the homeless in London are veterans," he continued. "And they are there for the same reasons as everyone else: lack of affordable housing; chemical dependency issues; social isolation; through divorce; poverty; mental health... It is all the same story." Last year, the charity received more than 1,000 calls for help and provided a total of 19,567 nights of accommodation to ex-service personnel who would otherwise be sleeping rough. Veterans' Aid will continue to operate an open-door policy. "We do not have any bureaucracy associated with us," said Dr Milroy. "We have kept our independence, which allows us to make innovative decisions. I do not have any limits to what I do: if I have a spare room and the person is in need, I can take them in, then and there. I do not need to ask another soul." The organisation also operates outside the CHAIN number system. "I am not reliant on traditional funding sources," said Dr Milroy. "So I am not bowing and scraping to local authorities. We get a lot of private finance and funding from service charities." Veteran's Aid has spent a lot of time establishing relationships with partner charities, to make sure that ex-servicemen always get a bed. "We have made reciprocal arrangements with other agencies," said Dr Milroy. "If we are full and they have a spare bed, we can send people there. Equally, if a partner agency finds that they have an ex-serviceman on their books, they contact us." The emphasis is very much on veterans helping veterans. Wing Commander Milroy served 20 years in the RAF, and four out of the other 15 employees are ex-servicemen. "It is in the tradition of the British Armed Forces and it is what separates us from [other homeless organisations]," Dr Milroy explained. "We are helping our own. It gives us an immediate understanding of the needs of the other person, and we are well-positioned to talk about the issues they face." Sometimes, the veterans who come through the door just need a bit of company. "There is an old man who came in once, lonely as anything," said Dr Milroy. "He asks to borrow ¬¨¬£20. We are happy to do that. He comes back in the next day and gives it back. It is the same ¬¨¬£20 note. He just wanted someone to talk to him. That sort of thing doesn't exist anywhere else." This is part of the charity's homelessness prevention strategy: "Some people just need a bit of TLC, for someone to recognise them as a veteran," Dr Milroy added. The hostel at New Belvedere House is a revelation. "It is a place of hope, not a ghetto of despair," he said. "People cannot believe it is a hostel. It is the jewel in our crown." The veterans who come not only find a bed for the night, but a whole community. "Everyone who comes through the door is lonely," said Dr Milroy, "They build new social networks and caring networks here. We had a man who was so desperate to get back to us that he left a hospital in Kent and walked all the way here in his pyjamas." Veteran's Aid helps veterans to rebuild their lives, and re-housed 73 people last year alone. All of them are sustaining those tenancies today. Since April this year, the charity has already housed 78 people. Through the support of Tower Hamlets, which provides a lot of housing for the organisation, a veritable community has sprung up in the area, all ex-residents of New Belvedere House. "Now, our priority is to expand, so that we can continue the good work," added Dr Milroy. "We want to raise our profile in the industry and make sure that veterans recognise our name, whether at home or abroad."