Cold, desperate and forgotten

by Rebecca Jackson


Street homelessness is becoming more and more visible across Wales.

The media coverage is extensive and although efforts are made to speak to people sleeping rough, quite often their voices are overshadowed or drowned out by the views of the public, professionals and politicians. It is easy to be grabbed by a headline and forget that these relate to people, people like you and me, with their own opinions, stories and aspirations.

All too often the focus from media and the public are on the symptoms of a growing street homeless population; issues such as begging, drug use and public intoxication are more frequently mentioned and just serve to distract from the fact that people do not have a home.

This week we are publishing an important piece of research that redresses the balance and puts people who are street homeless at the centre of the discussion. In Wales we have around 345 people sleeping on our streets: over a four month period we spoke with 100 of those people…that’s just under a third of the whole rough sleeping population in Wales.

Our researchers spent time going out and speaking with people on the streets, in their tents and at shelters. We’re hoping that what we heard will make you think beyond the sensationalism and try to see the people behind the stories. All of the quotes below come from the people we spoke with.

Nearly everyone we spoke with felt lonely, unwell and victimised. Although we do have a range of services in Wales, people said they faced huge difficulties trying to access and work with them.

‘We are treated with such a lack of any sense of humanity’

Barriers included very long waiting times for substance misuse services; overly complex referral routes; requirements to produce ID and other documentation; and hostel environments that were so intimidating that some people felt they were safer sleeping outside, in freezing winter temperatures.

‘I would like to be off these streets…you can’t imagine how cold it’s been…we use mamba to numb everything so time passes quickly…we don’t want to know what’s happening, we want silence, peace, death even’

People had a wide range of complex needs including poor mental health and illness, addictions, learning difficulties and adverse childhood experiences. We heard that the system requires effort and action that most just aren’t capable of.

‘I need support to do anything; I can’t see myself doing anything other than dying at the moment’

There are very real barriers preventing people from getting the right help at the right time. We know that there are some good services in Wales and they are trying their best to cope with increasing demand. And clearly, the system does work for some. But there are too many others who can’t make it work for them.

‘It’s so difficult to remember appointments when you’re street homeless. You’re living hour to hour just trying to survive’ 

So, how do we solve this? We asked people what they wanted and needed to end their homelessness. The answer was resounding:

‘I just want a home, somewhere by myself that I’m safe and warm and can live a normal life’

A roof over your head is only a first step but it is such a vital one, and if we are truly trying to end homelessness it should be at the centre of what we do. That roof is not likely to be in a large hostel with other people with complex needs, or only available after you have managed to work your way through a system that doesn’t recognise your needs.

We need to think differently. People told us they want their own homes, a chance to recover and rebuild their lives. People just wanted a home, but few felt hopeful of that becoming a reality.

‘We are supposed to be a caring society, what is going on?’

So next time you see a news story, a comment on social media or a sleeping bag in a doorway please remember the people behind them.  And if you want to help in a positive way then have a look at our 7 ways you can end homelessness.