A Scottish charity which cares for homeless veterans has been rocked by fresh allegations about conduct at two of its homes.
An investigation by The Courier has unearthed accusations of negligence and sub-standard care at centres run by Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR), including its Rosendael facility in Broughty Ferry.
Seven former and current SVR residents and two former members of staff have come forward to speak out about their ordeals at Rosendael and the charity’s Whitefoord House facility in Edinburgh.
Clark Duncan, who worked for the group for five years and was promoted to an accommodation sustainment officer before leaving in May 2017, claimed the level of care provided at the facilities was “not fit for purpose”.
“They have people there with complex mental health issues and chaotic lives and they have no clue at all how to deal with people in crisis,” he said.
“Our veterans deserve a service that allows them to address the issues that made them homeless and get the care they need – they aren’t getting that from SVR.”
The Courier has seen evidence of a former resident sleeping in a crypt in Calton Road cemetery, opposite the Whitefoord House complex, where staff and other residents would have been able to see him from the windows.
It is understood the King’s Own Scottish Borderers veteran, who suffered with severe mental health issues, had been staying with SVR for years before being suddenly evicted and forced to spend multiple nights sleeping rough under a sheet of old canvas.
Mr Duncan claimed he and another worker were “severely reprimanded” for going out to visit the resident after growing concerned for his welfare and said the level of support provided prior to the incident fell “well below even the most basic standards”.
SVR denied Mr Duncan was disciplined but accepted he was told not to return to visit the veteran.
Jonah Hawlett, 50, stayed in both facilities after a period of homelessness but was removed from Rosendael in October.
He said: “I honestly believe that my stay there made me worse than when I went in. There was nothing brought up in my weekly meetings about my PTSD and it felt like they were only interested in getting the housing benefit money.
“I just want them to stop treating people like this. All we want is to be treated with respect. They can’t keep getting away with just throwing people out, because they are ill.”
Mr Hawlett, who has been diagnosed with the condition, accepts his residency ended following a threat of violence but claims his issues were worsened by a lack of mental health care and turbulent surroundings at the centre.
Another veteran who stayed at Rosendael reportedly had his belongings stuffed into bin bags and was made homeless after being told on a Friday evening he would be evicted the next day with no access to housing support.
He claims he was targeted after questioning the lack of action being taken to help a fellow resident in crisis at the centre and now hopes to bring legal proceedings against the charity for discrimination.
Both Edinburgh and Dundee City Councils confirmed the former serviceman, who was once invited to Buckingham Palace to represent the veterans community, had not voluntarily made himself homeless.
A current resident at the facility, who asked not to be named, said some veterans had been left too scared to speak out because “if you stand up for yourself, they target you”.
A former SVR staff member added: “It’s supposed to be a place to help people get their lives sorted out but I saw very little evidence of that. It’s rife with drugs and alcohol.
“Sometimes you wouldn’t see residents for days on end and you would just wonder what on earth is going on.”
A senior member of staff at a leading care firm told The Courier she had heard concerning reports about how residents are treated by SVR.
She said: “I have guys staying with us now who came in from one of their facilities and none of them have a good word to say about the place whatsoever.
“They were really unhappy there. I hear constantly that there is a problem of bullying with SVR; that if you complain you are just told to leave.
“I spoke to a general last year and told him that they need to take a real look at the place because what is going on there really isn’t right.”
It is understood a number of issues about the charity have also been raised to the Care Inspectorate in recent years, with many reports failing to make it through to a full investigation stage.
A spokesman said it regards the latest allegations as “serious”. He added both care centres will be inspected again soon and said he “would encourage anyone with a concerns to contact us directly”.
SVR has been involved in a number of incidents since 2013, with the Care Inspectorate stepping in last year and twice in 2014 to tell the charity to make sure all residents are treated with dignity and respect.
Mary Kinnonmonth, director of Dundee Citizens Advice Bureau – which runs the Armed Services Advice Project, urged any veterans with concerns to get in touch.
Scottish Veterans Residences reject all of the claims made by current and former residents and staff
Susie Hamilton, head of external relations at SVR said: “These claims are either completely unfounded or have been distorted to paint a misleading picture about the great work we do in supporting homeless veterans.
“Last year we housed over 250 veterans with the vast majority of them pleased with the care and support we provide.
“This point is independently supported by the Care Inspectorate which has graded Rosendael and Whitefoord House as ‘very good’ in its most recent ratings.
“We also have a regular stream of social work, healthcare and local authority professionals coming onto our premises daily who would raise concerns over these type of allegations if they had any credibility.
“In the work we do supporting homeless veterans we deal with a number of vulnerable individuals, some of whom have issues with alcohol and drug consumption. Operating within this challenging climate, we have an outstanding track record.
“At Rosendael, we have had just one formal complaint in the past four years while Whitefoord has had only four in 12 years.
“Our staff are highly trained in providing housing support to help veterans without a roof over their head – we are not a mental health care service but we support residents to access health services and have our own counsellors.
“We are always focused on the well-being of our residents as our key priority.
“Anyone who perpetrates violence or makes violent threats towards fellow residents or a member of our staff will have their occupancy agreement terminated to ensure we uphold the safety of others.
“Alcohol is a legal substance and residents are therefore at liberty to have it on site. We do offer support for those with alcohol dependency problems.
“We have a very strict view and zero tolerance policy towards illegal drugs being taken on site which is a violation of a resident’s occupancy agreement.”