Tuesday, 5 June 2018

"You're a Veteran? That means nothing!" Mirrion Sozansky, Manchester City Council, Housing Dept

“Being a Veteran means nothing" 
“More than 2,500 former members of the armed forces entered the prison system last year, with experts warning a disproportionate number were being jailed for serious violence and sexual offences.
According to the Ministry of Justice, veterans represent between 4% and 5% of the UK prison population, raising concerns about the impact of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns on mental health issues in the armed forces.”

                     The Guardian,  18 March 2017

Matthew is in his late 40s and has served in the Royal Green Jackets for 3 years. After leaving the Armed Forces  having suffered a failed marriage, Mathew found himself on the streets for 3, years, suffering from PTSD, and other Mental Health issues.  Like a lot of our brave and honourable veterans, society ignored his cries for help and left him to rot on the streets. Friends and former colleagues describe him as being decent, loyal and brave. So why is he being treated like human rubbish? According to recent reports over 2500  former soldiers were sent to prison in 216 – 2017. This is not a problem that is going to go away.[i]

Mathew was easily led and he took part in an Armed Robbery, for which he received an 18 month prison sentence. On leaving prison half way through the sentence, for good behaviour, he immediately found himself homeless and stayed with a kind friend. Matthew was informed by his Probation Officer, that he should present himself homeless to Manchester Council, which he did. He attended an appointment on Friday the 25th of May, 2018. In spite of millions of pounds being poured into voluntary sector charities specifically to assist with housing before prisoners are released, nothing was done for Matthew and he had to crash on his friend’s sofa. Unstable accommodation is considered to be one of the biggest hindrances to successful rehabilitation so why was Matthew being set up to fail.  In a comparative cohort of Matthew’s peers, approximately 66% went on to re-offend, compared with 51% of those living in stable accommodation. [ii] Reoffending costs the UK over £15bn annually. [iii]

The appointment was with a Council employee named Mirrion Sozanskyj. During this interview, Mathew informed Mirrion  that he was a Veteran. Marrion then informed Mathew that being a homeless Veteran means nothing. The last bit of  dignity that fed the pride of this  wounded hero,  which should have had meaning  for a civilian and a public servant, a council worker - was dashed. He was given emergency accommodation and sent to Bolton to a bed and breakfast hostel which is 2 ½ hours away from his mother and his children. He has no money to travel. Being away from his friends and family is leading to depression and anxiety. He has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Manchester City Council claim they have an extensive care and wellbeing package for veterans which is available on its website. However in practise this appears to be nothing more than lip service and a signposting service to other veterans’ charities. Except Mathew didn’t even have the benefit of that service. 

Peter Waterman who is supporting Mathew says, “I have worked with Mathew and as an ex-colleague I can honestly say he has a good heart and is a decent man. I feel so upset that this Soldier, who has put his life on the line for Britain, was so dishonorably treated in a blatant breach of the Armed Forces Covenant.” 

The local authority’s view and actions taken towards this homeless veteran are unlawful and appear to contradict their statutory duty enshrined in the recently enacted Homelessness Reduction Act 2018[iv] which causes local councils to give priority to people leaving prison. No personal plan was assessed and nothing was done to ensure that Mathew would be prioritised and given the support and advice he so desperately needs. The Homelessness Reduction Act requires councils to provide homelessness assistance to any UK citizen or person with the right to reside. There is further responsibility that falls on the local authority to house Matthew in suitable accommodation close to his support network and friends, so he does not suffer  more stress needlessly,  and that his accommodation needs are met appropriately, according to the Armed Forces Covenant.[v] 

We are asking the council to deal with Matthew’s homeless application as a matter of urgency and priority and to provide decent, safe long-term accommodation as a matter of importance.

Failing this, friends and supporters of Matthew intend to raise money through a crowdfunding platform in order to seek urgent judicial review of the council worker’s unlawful and unreasonable decision. We also intend to release this press notice to all national and local media in order to expose the way that homeless veterans are treated, with disregard for the law.

Notes to Editors

Mathew Baird served half of his prison term in custody and will serve the balance of it in the community on license. He could have been released earlier on HDC (Home Detention Curfew) but he had no appropriate address,  from which he could be electronically monitored.   He has (3) children aged 16 ,19 and 22 .
Until the moment of madness that lead to this criminal conviction, Mathew was a law abiding citizen of good character which is reflected in the short sentence imposed on him by the Court. In prison he studied Thinking Skills Programme and he did a  Cognitive Behavioural Course for PTSD. He also attended courses to acknowledge the damage he did to his victims. He is remorseful for his actions. 

[ii]  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/491119/re-offending-release-waves-1-3-spcr-findings.pdf
[iii] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/05/23/prisoners-should-ready-start-work-day-leave-jail-justice-secretary/
[iv] http://www.cih.org/resources/PDF/Policy%20free%20download%20pdfs/What%20you%20need%20to%20know%20Homelessness%20Reduction%20Act%202017.pdf
[v] https://www.armedforcescovenant.gov.uk/housing-development/

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