A SOLDIER today told how he was forced to sleep rough on the streets of Sunderland after returning home from war.
Marc Thompson was drinking three bottles of whisky a day to kill the pain of feeling abandoned by the city he called home.
Homeless, unemployed and struggling to survive, the 30-year-old felt he had no hope.
Today, Marc called for more help to support Sunderland’s returning soldiers who often find themselves unable to cope on civvy street.
He said: “I would drink, then go to sleep, and wake up the next day and begin drinking again.
“I thought there would be much more help out there, much more support. There needs to be.
“I went from living a very regimented life in the Army to having nothing and I wasn’t prepared for it.”
Up to 8,580 Wearside military personnel returning from the frontline are likely to find themselves homeless, the Echo revealed earlier this year.
While 3,380 will end up dependent on drink or drugs, often leading to them having no place to live.
Marc, from Pennywell, served in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers for four years, between 1999 and 2002.
He served in Kosovo in 2000.
Marc returned to the city but found himself with nowhere to live, sleeping in parks, sheds and empty buildings.
“I just didn’t know where to go,” said Marc. “I started drinking and got myself into all kinds of trouble. This just went on and on for years, it was a very rough time.”
Eventually, Marc sought help through the North East Council on Addictions (NECA) who advised him on getting housing support.
Marc was then contacted and offered an interview for a room at a Norcare home in Newcastle, a charity that helps vulnerable ex-servicemen and women.
“I walked from Sunderland to Newcastle for that interview,” said Marc. “Because I couldn’t afford the bus fare.”
With help from Norcare, Marc has spent the past two months turning his life around.
Marc added: “Just having someone there to talk to who understands has been amazing.
“The other lads are great and the sessions I’ve been able to take part in have really made a difference to many things, including my drinking.”
Efforts are currently underway to raise the £140,000 needed to open a similar home in Sunderland.
Norcare have found a property at The Elms in Ashbrooke, which they hope will become the city’s first veterans’ centre.
Marc believes such a facility is vital to Sunderland.
He added: “If I’d known about these type of places it maybe would have prevented me going through all these years of pain.”
Phil Thompson, a manager from Norcare, said the organisation was in the process of submitting an application to the Armed Forces Covenant in a bid to secure the funding needed to go ahead with the plans for the Sunderland centre.
He added: “What people forget is that the Army is a lifestyle not a job.
“A lot of the men and women leaving the services come out and don’t know what to expect.
“There are a plethora of problems that need to be addressed. Everything from addictions to mental health problems to simply raising self-esteem.”