A man was found sleeping rough on Grantham College’s sports field by students on the morning of January 10.
After reporting this to a staff member, the college discovered that the man, Steve Thomas is an RAF veteran who has suffered with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and managed to come out the other side after suffering for ten years.
Steve is on a mission to walk 1400 miles around the UK to raise awareness of mental health and homelessness and wants to try and alleviate the stigma around mental health discussions.
He has been homeless several times which he admits was self-inflicted; not wanting to hurt his family any longer because of his mental health issues and alcohol addiction, he chose to sleep rough.
This is one of the messages Steve wants to portray about homelessness: “not all homeless people are junkies who want money for drugs. Some just want freedom from the society that we live in and have come from tough backgrounds.”
He has so far completed 400 miles of his journey after setting off from Wales where he is originally from and is passing through Grantham on his way to London where he will meet up with some former RAF servicemen.
Along the way, Steve has been trying to help other homeless people who are in a similar position and is encouraging them to speak to someone. “The hardest part for me is meeting people who don’t want to help themselves when all they need to do is talk to someone. I have been in that position myself and believed that I wasn’t worthy of being in the world but realised that I need to change this.” Steve adds: “I have attempted suicide on several occasions and it’s sad to think that so many people are going through exactly the same thing.”
Even though Steve has now turned his life around and wants to help others through it, he couldn’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel. His mother’s passing was his turning point. “My mother passed away after we hadn’t spoken for two years and I never got to tell her that I loved her and that I was sorry. This was the wakeup call that I needed and made me realise that I needed to fight through the stress and traumas that I had experienced over the last ten years rather than choosing to put myself to sleep forever.
“I was in the mind set of ‘I’m a man and we just get on and deal with things and pretend everything is ok’ when actually I was far from it. I remember I used to have thoughts that I wasn’t worthy of living and had researched ways to end my life in a way that no doctor would ever be able to save me. Now, I realise that that’s not the case. I now tell people to do just one thing every day; even if it’s just making your bed, you have achieved something.
“I don’t regret anything; I wouldn’t be where I am now without my past. My journey has forced me to live in the moment. Tomorrow isn’t real and yesterday has already happened.”
Grantham College’s Marketing Manager, Jaz Abeysekera who interviewed Steve says: “Steve’s story was so moving and inspirational. I’m really glad that it was the college field that he ended up sleeping on last night so that I got the chance to meet him and hear all about his journey.
“We all go about our everyday lives avoiding people and looking down at our phones but we don’t realise what’s going on in front of us and that perhaps by speaking to one stranger, you might make their day. You could be that listening ear that somebody has needed for a long time.
Jaz adds: “It goes to show that none of us really realise how lucky we are and that there are so many people out there who need a listening ear but so many of those people never get to where Steve has. He is a very brave man and I can tell he will make a difference to so many people’s lives by doing this.”
Steve is attempting to walk a minimum of 20 miles a day so that he can be home for his birthday on 21 February. His journey so far has been far from easy – he was close to hypothermia at one point which sent him delirious and there have been several times where he has wanted to give up but Steve states that: “a fire goes off in you and I realise that I survived the last ten years so I can keep going – I just need to focus on the next ten steps in front of me.”
Steve has lost 1.5 stone over the 400 miles that he has completed so far and has been surviving on ration packs, mug shots and generous meal donations from people he has met along the way. His weight loss has been more than he had anticipated but people that he has met have been so generous by feeding him a good meal. “I didn’t realise I would get so many people following my journey and being so kind to me. Some have even walked part of the way with me! It’s been a fascinating journey,” says Steve.
Steve is a plasterer by trade but won’t be going back to that once his adventure has come to an end. He has been invited by the Veterans Channel to run a Survival School which in turn, funds therapy for veterans. Alongside this, he would like to visit camps, schools and organisations to talk about his journey. Steve will also be writing a children’s book which will feature Dillon – a knitted character given to him by someone he met along the way. “The book will help children face any fears they may have and tell them it’s ok to feel that way,” says Steve.
Steve is raising money for Walking with the Wounded which is the charity that helped him through his battles and is also collecting donations to sustain him through his expedition. To donate to either of these funds, please follow the links below:
Walking with the Wounded donations:
Follow Steve’s journey via his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/roughingitforourheroes/?ref=br_tf
The staff and students at Grantham College wish Steve all the best for the rest of his journey!