By Tirion Davies
Cardiff has a vast array of citizens. From those who were born and raised here, to some who have moved from other parts of Wales, to even some who have travelled to Cardiff from all corners of the world. Cardiff is a big city, and around Christmas the streetlights get turned on and everything feels so much more festive. The colder months are bearable for us because we have Christmas and warm homes to look forward to. The same can’t be said unfortunately for many living on the streets in Cardiff.
When discussing the people who make Cardiff what it is, it’s practically impossible to not mention the homeless. Cardiff council have been trying to tackle the number of homeless people on our streets, but with the amount of those living in poverty continuing to increase in Wales, it’s undoubtedly getting harder to combat the problem. For those living on the streets, it’s getting colder and colder and harder to live without shelter during the harsh Welsh winter.
Gair Rhydd spoke to one of the many living on Cardiff streets. Rowan, who has recently been left in a position which meant his only option was to return to being homeless. Having lived on the streets off and on since 14, Rowan has seen the vast extent of the treatment homeless people receive in Cardiff. He says, “students tend to be very kind. Snooty people don’t stop, but young people do give me some food, which is great. The people in Cardiff tend to be really nice, to be fair. Like any city, you get your good people and your bad people but it feels like Cardiff have a lot of good people. Other than when people are drunk you don’t get a lot of people being rude”.
Following the breakdown of his second relationship, Rowan found himself on the streets again. “My second baby mother switched up on me. One day I was with her when she was having our son and the next day when I went to the hospital to see my son, the nurse told me she’d left. When I went back to her place, she changed the locks and wouldn’t let me in. I have a friend who’s been kind and let me use his place as an address for letters and interviews, but living with him would be unfair. He’s got a family of his own, he doesn’t need me there as well”.
Rowan says many are reluctant to offer money to the homeless, as the assumption is that the money will be spent on drugs. The little money Rowan might receive from kind passers-by will often go straight to his two children “it’s coming up to Christmas and I’ve given her [my daughter] everything I can – everything I can afford. I want to give them nice things at Christmas, so if I ever get money it’s just easier to spend it on the kids than on myself. I just want to get myself in a good place for them, so that they get some stability”. Before the breakdown of the relationship, Rowan was a stay-at-home dad to his daughter and raised her until she was three. He doubts he’ll get to spend Christmas with her this year.
Recently, Rowan received £20 from a man walking past where he was huddled in the shelter of a doorway. Rowan says “he told me that he’d slept in the same doorway the year before. It’s nice to see that people that used to be homeless don’t forget how hard it is. You never forget”.
Rowan recalls how many of the homeless people he’s met on the streets of Cardiff have been involved in petty thefts in the past as a way of getting sent to prison over the colder months. An extreme to many, but the aftermath of utter desperation for some. Winter is the worst time for homeless people to be living on the streets, especially in Cardiff. It’s hard to keep their items dry due to the heavy rainfall in Wales, and without the ability to buy extra blankets, they have to do with what they have – which is never a lot.
Rowan tells of how donations are always welcome, “it’s good to give clothes to charity shops, but we won’t ever see any of those things. Sometimes it feels like if there was a way of giving half to charity and half to a [homeless] bank it would be great”. Projects like Cardiff University’s Bare Necessities are much appreciated. When Rowan gets the opportunity to bathe himself or use a shower somewhere, he finds the soap in public bathrooms irritate his skin. With shower gel and soap donated by projects like Bare Necessities, he’s able to stay clean.
It’s hard to maintain hold of their own items in certain areas. “People can be territorial. You’ll see a lot of fights if one person gets too close to someone else’s turf”, Rowan says. Some of the homeless resort to stealing from others, and according to Rowan, “if someone steals your bag when you’re asleep there’s nothing you can do, it’s gone.”
Rowan moved to Coventry for a while, but moved back to Cardiff soon after he met the mother of his first child. He noted however, that the people in Cardiff seem more sympathetic to the homeless than in the other cities he’s been to, “from everywhere else I have been homeless, I’d say it’s pretty good down here. Maybe it’s because you see them everywhere here, but people in Cardiff seem really nice to us”.
Rowan hopes to gain work cleaning up Cardiff streets, “I’m going to start working on the bins for a few months, so that I have enough money to put down a deposit on private rent; my priority is to get off the streets”.
Having battled with sobriety, finding a shelter (where substance abuse is often a problem) doesn’t seem worth risking his sobriety for. Rowan hopes to gain any kind of work around Cardiff city center; his aim is to be able to offer his children a sense of stability through a house so that he can see more of them.
Christmas will be hard this year. He doesn’t want to impose on his friend’s Christmas with his own family but feels he won’t be welcome spending the holiday with either of his children due to the relationship he holds with their mothers. Christmas will likely be spent on the street this year, but he looks forward to any kind of hot meal which may be available across the city.
Despite the situation he’s been put in, Rowan seems optimistic. Having been homeless before means that he’s sure he’ll get back on his feet soon. It’s incredible to see such optimism from someone in a hard situation.
To learn more about ways of helping the homeless this Christmas, visit: