“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843
This passage serves as an abject reminder of the plight of the homeless, but also of some of the attitudes towards it.
It certainly did when Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of the Huggard Centre, Cardiff’s only open access centre for the homeless, read it aloud before the start of its annual sleep-out.
The event, which was to raise awareness for the Huggard Centre’s work with people who would otherwise be sleeping rough on the streets, was well attended and highly successful, raising £1526 just through the collection tins on the night.
And while homelessness seems to be an issue which gains sharper focus in the wider consciousness as the cold nights of winter set in, for some who find themselves homeless it can be hard to escape.
Simon Bray, 42, from north London, has been homeless since 16 and came to Cardiff after a relationship breakdown a few years ago. Homelessness for him has been a life-long problem.
“I’ve got a serious problem with it. I’m 42 and I’m still having the same problems I was having 25 years ago.
“I’m a good person and I try hard in life but every now and again I hit a brick wall and I will just fall through the holes and I end up homeless.
Since becoming homeless Simon has been in and out of hostels and private rented accommodation both in London and Cardiff, and has struggled to maintain employment.
“I’ve had jobs, I’ve had good jobs, I’m a grafter but I can’t keep it up, do you know what I mean?”
“What happens with me is because I’m not from Wales, I come into Cardiff and I may be sleeping in doorways. Or you go to Tresillian House and they can put you on floor space but they don’t always have room for everybody so that means you have to go and start sleeping out.”
Rough sleepers are only part of the problem with an issues as complex as homelessness, but they are perhaps the most visible.
First Homeless by darcysj77
Cardiff Council’s Rough Sleeper Count, carried out during a single 24-hour period on 24 September 2009, identified 26 rough sleepers in the capital, the same figure as the two previous years.
Compared to other urban areas in Wales, such as Wrexham and Swansea, 26 is a considerable number. In fact, compare that figure to the government data on England and Cardiff has the highest numbers of rough sleepers across England and Wales outside of London.
Of course these statistics are highly unreliable as they neither give a continuous representation of rough sleepers throughout the year nor take into account those who are in temporary accommodation like the Huggard. The Welsh Assembly Government scrapped the requirement on local authorities to conduct an annual rough sleeper count after 2008 and have since issued guidance on continuous measurements.
The reasons for people sleeping rough are varied, Simon explained. There may not be enough space in the hostels, some do not want help and some, like Simon himself, have no local links to Cardiff.
Jan by darcysj77
Due to a change in the law, under the Homelessness Act 2002, local authorities could take several factors into account in deciding on priorities for housing allocations. Section 16 (2A)(c) states that one of these factors is “any local connection which exists between a person and the authority’s district”.
This means people like Simon and others are considered lower priorities on the housing list. The front line homelessness services like the council-run Tresillian House, the Huggard Centre and the Salvation Army Outreach Bus do provide shelter for these people if there is space.
Jan Thomas, a Key Worker at the Huggard, said: “We still offer shelter to people from out of the area. At the moment we have a number of Eastern Europeans accessing our floor space. They’ve got no recourse to public funds but obviously we are not going to leave them outside if we have space inside.”
The problem of course is that with space being so limited – the Huggard Centre has 20 bedrooms for people who are residents and floor space for around 14 or 15 more – influxes of homeless people from other areas cause the overflow onto the streets.
Jan believes this is because Cardiff has more in the way of front line services. She said: “Cardiff compares favourably with places like some of the valley areas. Caerphilly, Newport and places like that. We get a lot of people from those areas coming to Cardiff because they cannot access any services in their area.”
Simon (right): "Every now and then I hit a brick wall"
London, too, is a less comfortable place to be homeless according to Simon. He said: “It’s a bigger problem in London. There’s more people, a lot more people, up there on the streets and for me personally I just find it better here in Cardiff. It’s too overcrowded in London. It’s hard to get help up there.”
While Cardiff might score highly on front line services, it seems the problem is hard to eradicate. Jeremy Thomas, head of the Council’s Housing Options Project (HOPs) which deals specifically with people aged 16-21, acknowledged this.
He said: “Cardiff in general is very proactive in terms of homelessness. It’s never enough but there’s lots of provision.”
HOPs, in dealing with highly vulnerable 16-21 year-olds, is highly effective and it’s family mediation services are particularly successful in keeping young people off the streets. Latest figures for the period June to September this year suggest 52.2% of young people returned or remained at home with ongoing support.
Answer by darcysj77
For Simon, though, it is too late for family mediation. He just needs somewhere to settle down. Currently staying at the YMCA in Cardiff, he has at least got a roof over his head for the time being but as is clear from his story, everything is temporary when you are without a home.
“I’ve drifted back to London but I keep coming back to Cardiff because Cardiff is where I want to stay. I’m trying to make my roots here do you know what I mean? Just trying to settle here now.”