A brave RAF veteran will be walking more than 1,400 miles this Christmas after he became homeless due to mental health and alcohol issues.
Starting on Monday Steven Thomas, 39, will be walking from his hometown in Blaengwynfi in Neath Port Talbot across the Brecon Beacons and into parts of east England and London.
Sleeping rough, he will chat to other homeless veterans along the way in a bid to raise awareness, help others, and share his own experiences.
Since leaving the British Forces in 2003, where he served in Canada, Germany, Bosnia, Falkland Islands, Georgia and Cyprus, ex-RAF communications operator Steve has suffered with severe mental health issues.
During the last decade these issues have led to several suicide attempts as well as health issues and problems with alcoholism.
It also left him homeless.
“My mental health issues led me to attempt suicide several times, my heart stopped three times due to alcohol poisoning, and eventually I became homeless,” Steve wrote in a personal blog in the armed forces magazine Easy Resettlement.
“I have driven away many loved ones over the years as I shut myself off believing I wasn’t worthy of their love.”
After years of living on the streets Steve’s sister eventually made contact with him. Unfortunately it was with the sad news that their mum had died.
Steve had not spoken to his mum in more than two years before that.
“These traumatic events forced me into a place that gave me, as I saw it, two options,” he said.
“To take the long sleep once and for all and put an end to the relentless pain or stand up and be proud of the real me again.
“I chose to love me.
“I couldn’t lose any more beautiful people from my life and I couldn’t undo what I had done or bring my loved ones back.
“As I grew stronger I felt I couldn’t let this keep happening to so many others out there on the streets: veterans, my brothers and sisters who have given so much to our country.
“I was blessed. After many years of pushing my family away they were still there for me when I decided to live again.
“Not everyone is so fortunate.”
Steve said his challenge now was to be as open and honest as he can about his journey through what he describes as the “dark days” of his mental health.
“I still don’t think mental health issues are accepted enough,” he said.
“I felt so much shame which separated me from society – driving me deeper into darkness.”
Steve is now sharing his experience in the hope of helping other veterans who might find themselves in similar situations.
He’s embarking on a mammoth 1,400-mile walk through Wales and England over Christmas and New Year.
Throughout his journey Steve will be sleeping rough and reaching out to homeless veterans in the hope of spreading his message.
“I want to raise awareness that there are so many of our veterans homeless this Christmas and suffering with their mental health and unable to ask for help.
“Like me they feel worthless and not worthy of asking for or taking help.
Steve will be walking 25 miles a day for 50 days between December 18 and February 18.
He will start in his home village of Blaengwynfi before heading over the Brecon Beacons up to north Wales, crossing over to the east of England, and down through London, the south coast and back to south Wales.
With the money he raises Steve will share a cup of tea and some food with homeless people he meets along they way.
“I know from my own experience that homelessness is not something you choose. It’s not a nice place to be while suffering with your mental health,” he said.
“I already didn’t like myself and then I felt like people were looking at me with either pity or by judging me. This led to a huge downward spiral that I just couldn’t see a way out of.
“Hopefully my challenge will not only show people how many of our veterans are suffering this Christmas but also let those that are suffering know how many care.”
A video documenting Steve’s journey has been made by his childhood friend and filmmaker Ciaran Gibbons , who is also a veteran of the British Armed Forces.
Ciaran said: “I just wanted to help highlight an old school friend’s battle against his own demons and also his efforts to help others.”