Published: 00:01, 07 February 2018
Steve Riley lived a comfortable life. He enjoyed luxury holidays to the Caribbean and a beautiful house but, after the breakdown of his marriage, the former soldier found himself homeless and on the streets. After 11 months of sleeping rough he has been rehomed. He spoke to reporter Jodie Nesling about his experience...
Strolling into a city centre coffee house this week, Steve Riley is tall, lean and well-dressed.
For many years the former soldier lived in Whitstable with his wife, enjoying what he himself admits was the "good life".
Yet for the best part of a year he has lived out of a pop-up tent in and around Canterbury city centre, relying on charity to survive and facing the dangers and uncertainty of being on the streets.
The former soldier in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers had spent 12 years serving Queen and country – the Falklands War veteran knew how to survive.
The 59-year-old’s decline started when he split from his wife of 18 years.
Admitting to not being in a good mental state he took £10,000 as a settlement – money that quickly disappeared on rent and bills.
He said: “I married into an upper middle class world.
"There were holidays to Sandals resorts in the Caribbean and all of a sudden it was ‘supper’ instead of ‘dinner’.
"I lived a good life and I enjoyed it.”
Selling the house in Whitstable and moving away, he headed to the Midlands.
Mr Riley, who also worked an advertising manager and gardener, said: “I went to Coventry where I am from but the council could not help so I bought a ticket on the National Express and came back to Canterbury.”
With no home, no income and no expectation of local authority help, he found himself on the streets.
He said: “People like me go straight through the cracks. I don’t take drugs, I am not an alcoholic, I do not have kids and I am not female.
“I could not face sleeping in the doorways so I bought a pop-up tent for £22.”
"I don’t take drugs, I'm not an alcoholic... people like me go straight through the cracks" - Steve Riley
He’d get breakfast at homeless charity Catching Lives before spending his day walking or reading and using the internet in the library.
But after being found sleeping in the cemetery in Becket Avenue again last month, a council officer issuing him a tent removal order urged him to get help.
He visited the council offices in Military Road that lunchtime. By 4pm he had been found a room in a shared house.
He will be interviewed for a permanent tenancy this week and is hopeful of now putting his experience to good use by writing a book about his life.
He said: “I am stripped to the bone. There is nothing of me but truth.”
Cllr Joe Howes, deputy chairman of Canterbury City Council’s community committee, said: “There is an incredible amount of work going on behind the scenes to tackle rough sleeping by charities like Catching Lives and Porchlight with the support of our officers.
"Housing and homelessness are at the top of the council’s agenda.”
Cllr Pat Todd, deputy leader of the council and its armed forces champion, said: “Supporting those who have left the armed services is really important to us.
“Pride can sometimes get in the way of veterans asking for help but there is absolutely no shame in doing so.”
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