A FORMER member of Northern Ireland’s armed forces has been sleeping rough to highlight the harsh reality facing homeless veterans and the homeless population in general. 

Glenn Davidson braved the streets of Newtownards, facing a gauntlet of attempted thefts but also a great deal of kindness, to see for himself what life is truly like for the homeless.
The 53 year-old father of one, a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment and later Royal Irish Regiment and Royal Military Police, has been sleeping under the stars in aid of the Royal British Legion
’s homeless veterans charity, the Great Tommy Sleep Out.

The Great Tommy Sleep Out is a fundraising challenge designed to support the estimated 6,000 veterans currently experiencing homelessness in the UK.

People are being invited to sleep outside for one night or more, tent or no tent, to help raise vital funds for the charity which highlights the emotional effects of homelessness, including veterans’ mental health and wellbeing. 
The charity is named after the term ‘Tommy’, a word used to describe a common soldier in the British Army

Originally from Bangor, Glenn said he was moved to take the drastic step of giving up the comforts of a warm house, hot shower and cupboards full of food to highlight an important message.

“The veterans of Northern Ireland lack facilities, with only one accommodation house, in Portavogie, with 10 rooms managed by the charity, Beyond the Battlefield,” he pointed out.

“Northern Ireland veterans deserve a warm place, safe from the streets, to rebuild their lives whether they be male or female.”

To illustrate the homeless experience, Glenn did a dry run, ahead of March’s Great Tommy Sleep Out, by pitching a small tent outside the Queen’s Hall last Monday and stayed out under the stars for a week.

Separated from the elements by only the thin fabric walls of his temporary ‘home’, Glenn had to rally ‘the complex emotions and fears of being homeless and the general sense of emotions that a homeless person faces day and night’.

Not only did he have to deal with inclement winter weather and difficulties surrounding personal hygiene, Glenn said being homeless showed how it’s a dangerous place on the streets’.

“I had picked the spot specifically because of the heavy footfall but it didn’t stop people trying to break-in to the tent and it really showed me the vulnerability of veterans,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, most locations to situate a tent, if you’re lucky enough to have one, has its own issues, with the eviction process to move you and on,” he said.

He said he was very lucky to have benefited from a network of local support services who he found ‘very helpful’ and even local ‘lovely people’ who stopped by and offered him food and drink. 

Glenn said local foodbanks, the Salvation Army and the Trussell Trust brought him food and drink to help him rally his time on the streets. 

Glenn said he didn’t reveal to those aid agencies that he was carrying out a homeless experiment, so he could properly gauge the experience of those facing the situation as a daily reality.

He added that he ‘kept it quiet’ to avoid his intentional sleep-out from ‘clouding’ other people’s opinions on the reality facing the homeless. 

Commenting on the unusual experience, he said he had wanted to take part to help raise awareness of the ‘bigger issues’ facing veterans including the emotional and mental health impact of life without a permanent home.
“People who are homeless don’t have a choice; they don’t choose this,” he stressed. 

Despite the difficulties facing those who have no alternative than life on the public pavements, Glenn was heartened by the public’s approach to homelessness.

“There are people out there to help and the public in general are sensitive to the situation, to the extent it sometimes is a humbling experience of the kindness in these difficult times.”

To help raise funds for the Great Tommy Sleep Out visit the Royal British Legion Industries at