Homelessness: Where do we stand now?

Source: Michaela Harcegova (Via Instagram)

By Liam Ketcher

With more than 4,000 young homeless people in Wales, the number of rough sleepers in Cardiff is still on the rise. Gair Rhydd takes a look at the situation in the capital city in 2017.

A report by the Statistics for Wales (2017) show that in 2016, there were 53 rough sleepers in Cardiff on a typical night and this was comparable to other areas with high numbers such as Birmingham and Bedford with 55 and 59, respectively. However, it is still not as high as those in lead such as Bristol (74) or Manchester (78). According to homelessness charity, The Wallich, there has been an 18% increase of rough sleeping in Cardiff within the last year. Out of the 560 people the charity has helped this year, a staggering 66%(368) of them were aged between 36 – 50. Furthermore, 67%(371) of the total people helped were men.

Within the city, there’s a whole host of services available to people sleeping rough. For example, The Wallich holds a breakfast run throughout the week which starts around 6:30 in the morning during which, the volunteers deliver a bacon roll and a tea or coffee to those on the streets. Also, the Salvation Army’s night bus, parks in front of the city’s museum in the evenings offering hot soup and shelter for a few hours each night. People are able to donate clothes and blankets to the charity’s bus, which are then handed out. There are limited bed spaces in Cardiff – only 240 are available for rough sleepers in the shelters, but these are not always filled. A mixture of emergency and long term provision are available to all those struggling.According to Cardiff Council a third of those on the streets are not from Cardiff. This has an increasing effect on the number of homeless people in Cardiff, with the average night count varying between 30 – 50 people on the streets. Due to the variety of services available in the city, Cardiff has seen an increase of 40% of rough sleepers that come from outside of Cardiff. These people come from across all of South Wales, such as Swansea, Bridgend, Ebbw Vale and Barry. Some rough sleepers come from Bristol too.

Research carried out by Heriot-Watt University for homelessness charity, Crisis, has found that the number of homeless people in Britain is expected to double by 2041. It is clear that the issue surrounding homelessness in Cardiff is still prevailing despite the many policies and drives the Government has put in place to combat it. The Wallich and The Big Issue are just two of the many services providing support to those in poverty and on the streets to make a change.

Launched in 1991, due to the rising numbers of rough sleepers in London, The Big Issue offers the people on the streets the opportunity to earn money by selling the magazine to passers-by. The sellers, known as vendors, become mini-entrepreneurs who, by working rather than begging, earn their money. They first buy copies of The Big Issue for £1.25 each, and then sell them to the public for £2.50. Now, after more than 25 years the magazine has sold over 200 million copies and helped change the lives of many of the poorest within our societies.

Geoff Edwards, 52, from Liverpool, endured long periods of time without a job and even spent time living on the streets. After leaving school with two O-Levels and with no ambition to continue his studies, he went on to work on farms across the entire country. From Kent, Gloucestershire, to Scotland and Cambridge, he would find work and move on when there was no longer work available for him. With the help and support of other homelessness charities, Geoff was able to save up £20 to travel to London on a Monday to pick up the magazines which he would then sell on the streets of the city like so many others. After a few years he then was placed into accommodation, but he began to feel depressed and isolated and decided that he needed to make a change. Therefore, he enrolled at his local college to get back into education.

Now he has earned a place to study English Literature at the University of Cambridge. Speaking to The Guardian he said;

“I can’t say it’s what I always dreamed of because I didn’t really ever think of the university, but to have lived in this town for a while, and to get the chance to finally go behind those doors, is a privilege.”

“The essay writing is a big step up from the access course. I knew that when I started. It’s pretty intense. It’s like a 40-hour week of reading and writing. It does feel a bit weird. It’s still like … Cambridge! They are trying to encourage people from more different backgrounds to study at Cambridge, and good on them.”

However, homelessness and rough sleeping is something that can affect us all. Llamau is Wales’ leading charity for young people and vulnerable women facing homelessness. Their new campaign aims to raise money for their first out-of-hours freephone helpline. This will provide advice and support for young people in Wales facing rough sleeping and homelessness.

With the nights getting colder and darker as we head closer and closer to the Christmas period, it’s important that we remember those on the streets. Even a smile as you pass by, may make a difference to a homeless person’s day. If you can spare a few minutes, stop and have a chat; you can be sure they will truly appreciate it, as most passers-by rarely bother stopping.

The stigmatisation of those who find themselves homeless on our streets shouldn’t be a feature of the society we should aspire to inhabit. By continuing to embody degrading stereotypes of the homeless, we are far less likely to offer them the help they desperately need to change their lives – if given this opportunity, they will prove to us all that their lives are not as meaningless as our treatment and attitudes towards them may often imply.

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