We spoke to ex-homeless people about what it’s like to live on the streets in the year’s coldest months

By Eleanor Scales & Lindsay Smith

Being homeless is never a great time – but the winter months are when people suffer the most, due to a lack of coats, clothes, blankets and shelter. Last year, it was reported that 78 homeless people died due to cold weather.

We spoke to ex-homeless people – who are now living in free accommodation provided by homeless charity Emmaus South Wales – about their lowest, highest, and most challenging times of being homeless in South Wales.

Danny, 39                    

How did you become homeless?

That’s not an easy question. I’d had enough, really. I gave up really, in a way. That was about four and a half years ago. Depression, I think. After a year, I did care about life again, and it’s took me 3 years to get to Emmaus. I don’t know what would have happened now if I was still on the streets. Emmaus has got me where I am now. If you saw me four years ago you wouldn’t come anywhere near me. I’ve come a massively long way.

What made you change your outlook?

I got beat up, and that kind of changed me. I thought, I don’t want this anymore, I’ve had enough now. I’m not much of a drinker or drug user but you just kind of do it if it’s cold or raining because you just don’t want to be yourself. So, you take drugs or drink until you pass out.

How can homeless people get off the streets?

Other charities help you for a few nights, but Emmaus let you stay for as long as you need in return for volunteering in their shops. There’s triple the amount of help here than any other charity I’ve seen.

What was the worst thing that happened on the streets?

I got beat up and I just had nothing. I was asleep on the bench next to another homeless person, because you don’t tend to go to sleep when there’s no one there. Someone stamped on my head when I was asleep. The other man had to go to hospital. When I woke up the police were there, and I hadn’t seen who it was. It scared me because I don’t know who did it or why.

What are your plans for the future?

To get a job and get my own place. I’ll work anywhere. I’ve had my own house before, so I know what it is to have it and lose it, so I think I’ll appreciate more things. I’m doing it for my boys. Its hard work being out there. Every day you have to wake up and think I’ve got to find something to eat today, something to drink, where can I go to the toilet.”

Tilly, 30

What is it like to live on the streets?

Women on the streets are not seen as humans but as prey by homeless and the public.

Can you explain what you mean by ‘prey’?

Women on the streets are very highly at risk of sexual assault by both homeless people and equally members of the public. It’s your typical man walking home drunk from the club through the park at 3am that sees his opportunity. We are not people on the streets. We are faceless, so we are easy targets.

How did you become homeless?

Tilly did not want to answer, however she did tell us: “Homelessness doesn’t care where you come from. You could be one pay check away from being homeless. It can happen to anyone – one bit of bad luck and you’re gone.”

Although Tilly did not want to tell us much more, she was passionate about getting across the fact that women are highly vulnerable to sexual assaults on the streets.

Darren, 55

How did you become homeless?

I was volunteering for years for Emmaus when I lost my house, and they turned round and said we’ll help you out for as long as you want. They provided me a room

If someone walked up to you in the street, what would you want them to do?

Whatever anyone can provide for you, it can help no matter what it is. Even if it is just down to a cup of coffee, or sometimes a sleeping bag, everything helps. Especially when you haven’t got money and it’s cold.

Has anything bad ever happened to you by another member of the public? Are people sometimes mean?

Yes, that’s quite common actually. Homeless people tend to come together, especially at night, because they have to support each other. But you do get a lot of negative things happen.

What do you think about people who give homeless people lots of money at once?

I think it’s better to give homeless people things they need like food or hygiene products, especially because some homeless people do struggle with substance abuse.

What would you like to put in packages?

Solidarity packages. Hygiene products. Tooth brush and toothpaste, nail clippers, baby wipes, deodorant and things like that. Emmaus are really helpful with packages and giving accommodation for as a half way place until you get yourself back on your feet.

Emmaus UK is one of the only charities in the UK that offer this kind of accommodation with minimal strings attached.


Now, over to you

Here’s how you can help provide solidarity packages for Emmaus South Wales, to give to homeless people who are currently living in their free accommodation.

For just £1.75 you can get yourself a handy tote bag, which can provide a homeless person with deodorant for a few weeks.

In a matter of a few minutes and the price of a personal pizza, you can purchase a £5 essentials box or clothing package for the homeless on the Emmaus website below: