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Homelessness in Cardiff: Number of people sleeping rough doubles in two years

Homelessness in Cardiff has risen by over a half in the last two years, according to a charity report. In response to the news, Gair Rhydd has conducted an investigation into life on the streets of the Welsh capital.

According to The Wallich homeless charity, the amount of people living on the streets has increased by 64 per cent between October 2013 and October 2015. This has meant that the number of people receiving daily support from the charity has grown from 12 in 2013 to 28 this year.

For those made homeless, reasons for this rise include a lack of government support and hostile attitudes in neighbouring cities.

Talking to Gair Rhydd, one group explained that their reluctance to go to shelters also stemmed from the theft of possessions and an intimidating environment created by drug users.

Meanwhile another man noted that aggressive anti-homeless policies in other cities has forced people to move to Cardiff.

In October, a nineteen year old boy was given a £150 criminal court charge in Swansea for begging in a doorway of an empty shop.

Meanwhile, plans to criminalise those sleeping rough in Newport have only just been overturned due to the work of charities and campaign workers, according to The Guardian.

In response to the increase in homelessness in Cardiff, the Chief Executive of The Wallich described the situation as “very worrying, particularly in the face of potential further funding cuts in 2016/2017”.

This is especially true with the approaching winter months, with the risk of citizens developing severe illnesses and even freezing to death.

In reaction to the news, Cllr Susan Elsmore, Cardiff Council Cabinet Member for Health, Housing and Wellbeing maintained that she is “committed to working with individuals who sleep rough on the streets of Cardiff to support them to access services”.

According to the Council, the situation can be attributed to changes in the law to effective entitlement to benefits and housing. A spokesperson confirmed that the largest increase of homelessness has been seen within groups from European Economic Areas (EEAs).

They have now stated that Cardiff will work with its partners to “reconnect these clients to their country of origin”.

However, Welsh citizens on the streets have also attributed their situation to a lack of support and funding from the British government. This includes an apparently “limited” number of resources allocated to Wales.

One homeless man told Gair Rhydd that he was disgruntled with the government’s immigration policy, which he said helped EU citizens to secure housing within six weeks.

He said: “I don’t care if you’re black, white or an Oompa Loompa” but stressed that the government should “look after” the UK homeless population ahead of those migrating from the EU.

He also stated that despite being a former employee of HM Revenue and Customs, continuing health problems resulted in a loss of job and stability.

“People think I am either a crackhead or a smackhead”, the victim continued. However he maintained that it is solely a lack of fixed accommodation preventing him from securing a job.

“Where can I put my address for a job application – the doorway of the Blue Banana?” he questioned, adding that with nine GCSEs, a BTEC in finance and business and qualifications as an accountant, the former civil servant remains highly skilled.

Another man stated that after failing to receive benefits he was left with no alternative but to sleep rough. This occurred three months ago despite completing three work trials for no pay, a process which he described as “free labour”.

General attitudes towards homelessness were also described as a major concern during the investigation, with all interviewed emphasising that many people remain highly critical and abusive.

Common responses included accusations from strangers of being “lazy” or alcoholics.

To try and tackle the situation, Cardiff Council Outreach team currently work with charities including Huggard, the Salvation Army, Wallich and the YMCA to “combat street homeless.”

Their services includes providing hostels, a day centre and a night bus service to give food and shelter to those in need.

The council also explained that they run a ‘Rough Sleepers project’ which provides self-contained accommodation when hostels are deemed “unsuitable”.

To deal with the rise in homelessness the number of Outreach workers has also increased, along with the number of cold weather provisions places and accommodation units.

Talking to Gair Rhydd the spokesperson thanked the Homeless Alliance of faith groups which have provided 45 extra spaces in a specific winter night shelter.

The Salvation Army’s Cardiff Bus Project has also received praise by its users, as one person told Gair Rhydd that without such provisions “I wouldn’t have anything”.

The bus currently operates five times a week, and provides food and advice for the homeless. According to one volunteer, who otherwise works as a part-time retired GP, the services attracts a large number of people.

“It can point those on the streets to a number of facilities, including free healthcare at a specific practice in Grangetown,” he followed.

Despite council and charity provisions however, it seems that not all those on the streets are successfully taken into account. In an interview, one person in need of help alleged that in each of the five homeless shelters available, only one room is allowed for those with pets. He continued to explain that leaving his companion out on the streets without him was “not an option”.

In response to such stories, Cardiff University students have stressed the need to help those sleeping rough.

One second year student explained that he had originally applied to create a Help the Homeless Society. However, the Students’ Union recommended that such an idea would be better suited to a project created with the help of Cardiff Volunteering.

VP Societies Hannah Sterritt reassured Gair Rhydd that the organisation would be eager to help and support such an idea.

However, the student, who studies Japanese and German, noted: “There is no group within the university, totally dedicated to helping homeless people in Cardiff.”

He continued: “Helping people escape homelessness may well be well outside of the ability of a student society, but there is absolutely no harm in providing essential items to homeless people, and a society to this effect should be here by the beginning of next semester.

“However futile our efforts may prove to be in the larger scheme of things, the emotional benefit of knowing that somebody is aware of their predicament cannot be understated.”

President of the Red Cross society Habbas Al-Alshaab also stressed the importance of lending a hand as he advised students to get involved: “Don’t be afraid to chat to them. One thing that very few people realise, is that sometimes it means just as much to them to have someone treat them like an actual human being.”

Al-Alshaab also advised volunteers to “sympathise with them, but don’t patronise them” and to avoid assuming that those on the streets are “drug abusers, dealers and criminals”.

The society president concluded by suggesting that students avoid flashing expensive phones and money around those who can “barely afford to eat”.

He said: “It is often more useful to give them something they can use or eat instead of giving them money. Have an idea of any shelters/food programmes when you go to help them. They may already know whats available but its good to know in case they ask. Lots of them have dogs, so bring something for the them too!”

According to the Students’ Union, “supporting people dealing with homelessness is a complicated, challenging task.”

As a result, Cardiff Volunteering currently work with local homeless services to allow students to help in a “safe and effective manner”.

Cardiff Volunteering currently organises overseas projects with local hostels, and gives advice to societies delivering outreach events.

Upcoming events will also include a clothes sorting evening for donations to the refugee camp at Calais and a student sleep out which will raise funds and awareness for our homelessness projects.

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  • “One homeless man told Gair Rhydd that he was disgruntled with the government’s immigration policy, which he said helped EU citizens to secure housing within six weeks.” – It would have been useful if your journalists had researched the actual government immigration policy, which prohibits EU citizens from claiming Housing Benefit (and therefore any secure, permanent accomodation). EU citizens who have not worked in the U.K. for at least three years are not entitled to Housing Benefit. The only accomodation they secure would be based on a charity providing them with housing funded by their own resoucres.

    Accuracy with these issues is vital, especially if you do not want to perpetuate myths that would not be out of place in right-wing reactionary newspapers.

    All British citizens are entitled to claim housing benefit, even if they have been sanctioned or lost their unemployment benefit due to not engaging with a work experience scheme. Clarity is essential here. People who are street homeless often inform members of the public that they cannot claim housing benefit or have been denied it – this is not the case with U.K. citizens. Although some people may have a long wait for state accommodation such as a housing association property, supported accommodation such as a hostel room or room in a supported, share house, is widely available to British citizens in Cardiff through a number of large, well-established charities. The biggest obstacle to accessing these services is usually the willingness of a person to engage with homelessness services.

    Once a person is made homeless, they can appeal a sanction and would not have to fulfil obligations such as work schemes until they were settled in permanent, supported accommodation.

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