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Billy's story

26.02.2018 18381 XX

“I’d been out for my birthday three years ago. After the party and I decided to stay over at my friend’s house while some other people stayed at my flat. When I got back the next day one of the neighbours told me there had been a fire. I could see smoke damage on my balcony and when I opened the front door my jaw just dropped. The whole flat was gone. It was just a charred black empty space. The fire brigade said it was started by an unextinguished cigarette falling on the sofa while everyone was asleep. Luckily everyone got out in time but I lost everything I owned. My dog died too. I was literally left with the clothes I was wearing.

I went to the council but they wanted to know who had started the fire and they didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t know, so they classed me as intentionally homeless. That meant I had to wait six months to get any help at all. I stayed with friends at first and then I went to a B&B but I couldn’t afford it for long so I started to sleep in graveyards, behind shops, in doorways or in the park. I was working as an electrical engineer at the time but I started going to work completely shattered and exhausted from sleeping rough. Eventually the people I was working for asked what was wrong and when I explained about the fire they said it would be best if I left to sort out my accommodation first and go back after that. But it never happened. The more I slept rough the harder it became.

I was in the Royal Scots Infantry for six years when I was younger. I joined when I was sixteen and did two tours of Kosovo. I’ve had some help from an ex-soldier’s charity who nearly got me into a flat last year but that fell through at the last minute and I’ve not heard from them since then. The Royal Legion have offered help too but I’m hoping to move in with my mum in a few weeks time which will make it easier to sort these things out. Until then I'm just living day to day.

Usually I find the noise worse than the cold but when it’s freezing like this I try to make just enough to get into a backpackers hostel. The winter shelters are not nice places. Forty men stuffed into a church hall. Lots of them are on drugs and drink. I’d rather stay on the street than go there. Plenty of other people out here are doing the same thing. Especially the women. But if I don't make enough I may have no choice. There are some heating vents you can find near the station but people do die out here.”

Billy, Edinburgh.

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