A Sunderland veterans charity has seen a huge surge in people asking for helping due to the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ger Fowler, the founder of Veterans in Crisis, said the number of people he’s helping has shot up to around 350 which is a huge leap from 220 back in March.
He said it’s down to the effects of Covid-19 with people losing their jobs and their mental health plummeting due to being isolated from loved ones.
Ger said: “We have had a massive increase in clients since Covid-19. We now have about 350 clients from people getting furloughed, losing their jobs, physical health problems, mental health problems.
“People can’t get evicted because of the rules but some people are still finding themselves homeless.
“A lot of the problems are to do with social isolation that the lockdown has caused.
“People are struggling with their mental health, especially with Covid and that feeds into their physical health too because they’re less likely to do physical activities.”
The charity provides a wide range of services including emergency accommodation, mental health training and social clubs.
But due to restrictions, they have had to adapt and deliver their services remotely by delivering food and running virtual sessions.
Ger, who won the Chronicle’s Armed Forces Champion Award last year, said: “It’s been really difficult, we couldn’t have anyone in we had to do everything remotely, so we set up Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups we delivered meals and things to keep them busy.
“We have to give our clients things which will try to keep them busy because if they’re busy it stops them from doing things they maybe shouldn’t be doing.
“People who have stopped drinking or have stopped smoking, once lockdown hit all those things started again.
“Since the first lockdown, we started doing coffee mornings outdoors, outdoor fitness classes but the rules are constantly changing.
“The art classes we run have moved to virtual classes and all the art supplies are delivered for everyone attending the classes.
“Everything has got to be done within the rules but we’re doing our best to help not only veterans but people in need.”
Ger is a veteran who turned to drugs and alcohol after five years in the Army before he later set up his own project to help former service personnel in his home city of Sunderland.
He was just 18 when he saw eight of his colleagues killed when an IRA roadside bomb blew up a bus in Ballygawley, Northern Ireland in 1988.
Ger survived as he had stepped off the bus just before the explosion.
He knows the importance of helping veterans in need and said this year they’re helping more people than ever before.
The charity is delivering 75 Christmas meals, food parcels and presents to those in need and said the festive period can be a difficult time for people.
He said: “It’s extremely difficult for veterans or anyone who is going to be on their own over Christmas. We’re delivering three-course meals on Christmas morning so they all get a good meal and it also breaks their day up for them.
“It’s been difficult for everyone I felt like we just got up and running and then Covid happened but it’s happened to everyone.
“It has been a difficult year but if anything, it’s given us more drive to push on.”
Earlier this year, the charity managed to raise enough money to secure their permanent home on Roker Avenue but Ger said that fundraising is always an important factor in continuing their work.
You can find out more about Veterans in Crisis by visiting their website here.