From sleeping in his car to studying housing at university – this is Mark’s story

From living in his car, to cooking for people sleeping on the streets, to studying housing at university – meet Mark

Mark went from sleeping in his car to studying homelessness at university

Mark Eaton-Lees wrapped a duvet around himself in the back of his car, trying to keep out the midwinter chill, but he couldn’t get warm.

When his rented accommodation fell through last-minute, Mark was left with nowhere to go and ended up sleeping on the back seat of his Volkswagen Polo for 40 freezing nights.

“Panic was setting in,” said the former recruitment worker. “When I got to the car park, I was in tears. Where was the nearest toilet? Where do I shower? Where do I eat?”

After experiencing homelessness first-hand, Mark was determined to help others and started cooking for people living on the streets. He’s now studying homelessness at Swansea University.

Mark was staying long-term at a B&B in Blackpool over winter 2014 while working as Transport Manager for a logistics company in North West England.

As a keen diver, he dreamed of setting up his own scuba diving centre in Devon and decided to hand in his notice to pursue his ambition.

After travelling to Devon by coach at weekends to research accommodation, Mark managed to find a room to rent in Paignton and paid a deposit.

The landlord agreed he could move in the New Year, after working his month-long notice period and further saving towards starting his business.

“Little did I know, this was the start of my line of dominoes falling over, pushing me into hidden homelessness,” said Mark, who bought a cheap car to help with the move.

“I checked into a hotel at Exeter Airport over Christmas for a break before my new life started. I always remember that because I had a Mars Bar for my dinner on Christmas Day.”

He added: “I still can’t explain it, but something was bugging me. Every time I looked out of the window and saw my car, I thought to myself: ‘I’ll be sleeping in that soon.’

“The day I checked out, I had a shower and thought: ‘This could be my last one for a while.’ It was an eerie feeling.”

After packing up, Mark’s car wouldn’t start and he had to fork out for a new battery. One breakdown callout later and he was on his way to his new accommodation.

“I arrived just after midday,” he recalled. “I knocked on the door and was greeted with: ‘Ah, hello.’ I knew it wasn’t good.

“They told me I was the only person who’d taken a room, so they’d decided to go away themselves until summer. They gave me my money back and shut the door.

“I had so many emotions going through me. The main one was: ‘I’ve messed up here.’ I just didn’t know what to do. It was like being punched in the stomach.”

He spent the rest of the day driving around the local area, looking for other accommodation options, but couldn’t find any.

“I didn’t want to call my parents in the Midlands,” he explained.” “My pride wouldn’t let me. I didn’t want to burn through the few savings I had with more hotels, so I had to think fast.”

Mark remembered a free restaurant car park in Exeter and headed there. He struggled to start his car again and the breakdown service told him he needed a new starter motor.

Mark remembered a free restaurant car park in Exeter

Mark remembered a free restaurant car park in Exeter

“Panic was setting in now,” he recalled. “Where do I go? What do I do? When I got to the car park, I was in tears. Where was the nearest toilet? Where do I shower? Where do I eat?

“All these things were going through my head. Then I realised, a few feet away, people in the restaurant were having fun – maybe celebrating birthdays or anniversaries with loved ones.

“There I was, alone, 6ft tall, trying to get comfortable on the back seat of a small VW Polo. And that’s where I stayed for the next 40 nights.”

Cold and hungry, Mark walked to a supermarket and bought a duvet and pillow. He’d thought people wouldn’t notice him in the car park, but soon realised it was busier than he’d expected.

“I couldn’t let anyone catch me sleeping in the car,” he said. “The embarrassment would have been overwhelming.”

Mark got up at 6am and walked to Exeter Services so he could shower. He went to the job centre, but could not find work. He walked miles during the day, hoping it would help him sleep.

“After a month of walking the streets from sunrise to sunset, I knew I couldn’t keep doing this,” he said. “I was living off discounted food from Tesco and a cup of tea a day.”

He was looking for work as an HGV driver, thinking he’d be able to sleep in the truck. He couldn’t apply for office work, as he didn’t have suitable clothes or any way to wash his belongings.

“I started to feel a lot of pain,” he recalled. “My legs were constantly hurting and it felt like the inside of my bones were freezing. It was still January and I was in trouble.

“The penultimate night, I was scared as I’ve never felt before. I got to the car at my usual time, 9.30pm, and again, I was cold.

“I climbed into the back and got under my duvet. I felt this incredible warm feeling all over my body – it was surreal. I drifted off and had the best night’s sleep I’d had in a very long time.

“But the next morning, I struggled to wake up. I couldn’t think. I had huge brain fog and I was petrified.”

Mark managed to get to the library and after researching his symptoms, believes he had hypothermia.

“Looking at that library computer screen, I knew my time was up,” he recalled. “I had to make the phone call I’d been dreading: ‘Hi mum, I’ve messed up…’

Mark’s parents suggested he returned to Wolverhampton and they paid for his train ticket. He spent the next three months living in his brother’s spare room while he got back on his feet.

During that time, Mark met his partner and they started talking about moving to Devon. The pair managed to find work and accommodation to rent. Her son moved in with them.

Mark said he felt “incredibly lucky” to find a social home after being told 150 other people had viewed it that weekend. They were given a £100 voucher to help decorate the bare floors and walls.

As they settled in, Mark was keen to get involved with local homelessness charities. He started collecting donations, before helping out with cooking – at one point making 100 meals a week.

Mark started cooking for people who were living on the streets

Mark started cooking for people who were living on the streets

Mark was working as a long-distance courier driver when he met a young man in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral.

“He was no more than 20,” said Mark. “He looked cold, tired and terrified. He had a cardboard sign saying: ‘Please help. I’m homeless. But more than food or money, I want a job.’

“I felt heartbroken. I brought him coffee and a sandwich and he told me his story. We chatted for an hour and that hour changed my life.

“I went home and told my partner about what had happened. I had so many questions about why homelessness happens. Can it end? The questions came flooding out of me.”

Last year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published an evidence review about “hidden” homelessness in the UK, highlighting some of the main data gaps.

Mark’s partner suggested he should go to university to study housing and homelessness. He passed an online 12-month foundation degree and was accepted at Swansea University.

Mark on stage giving a talk

Mark on stage giving a talk

The 46-year-old is in his second year of Criminology and Social Policy and is planning to complete a master’s degree and PhD. He also has a research interest in autism, following a family member’s diagnosis.

“I’m older than a lot of the lecturers,” he laughed. “They’re amazing though and always have time for me. They know I’m passionate about my need for knowledge about youth homelessness.

“Getting a PhD would be full circle for me. To go from being homeless, living in my car, to being an expert in housing and homelessness. That’s what drives me.”

Last summer, Mark volunteered at the Homeless World Cup in Sacramento, California, which he described as “life-changing”.

Mark at the Homeless World Cup

Mark at the Homeless World Cup

He added: “It truly was a privilege to be there with them and see how football can change lives and bring people together. People become lifelong friends. I still speak to some of the players now.”

A lecturer told Mark about Peer Research jobs with Shelter Cymru and last year, he went to the People & Homes Conference, before starting his role in October.

“It has been awesome,” he said. “We’re doing some really good projects and it truly is so exciting. Seeing my name in the acknowledgements section on a report brought tears to my eyes.”

Mark has weekly catch-ups with Peer Research Support Officer Lauren Caley, and monthly video calls with the whole team, as well as access to training.

“The team I work with are friendly and welcoming,” he said. “The training has helped me immensely with my role and my university studies.”

Mark has also been involved with Shelter Cymru’s Take Notice project, contributing to an advice chat bot and taking part in an interview panel.

Mark at a Peer Research training day

Mark at a Peer Research training day

Shelter Cymru Peer Researchers have lived experience of housing insecurity. They use this experience, with their other skills, to inform our fight for home through data and research.

Lauren said: “From my first meeting with Mark, he impressed me with his insights and instinctive understanding of what good quality, trauma-informed research into housing issues should look like.

“His personal experiences have fuelled his ambition to campaign for change and are part of what makes him such a fantastic Peer Researcher.”

She added: “The Shelter Cymru Peer Researchers each have different experiences of homelessness or housing insecurity and bring these varying perspectives and deep empathy to all of our work.

“Mark and the team took the training on board effectively and it’s been wonderful to see them contribute to research discussions both within Shelter Cymru and with our partners. They are a credit to themselves as well as the organisation and I’m so proud to work with them all.”

If you’re interested in Peer Research, contact Lauren by emailing [email protected]

8 May 2024

By Liz Day

Cyclist celebrating 75th birthday aims to raise £5,000 for Shelter Cymru by riding 1,000km

Cyclist celebrating 75th birthday aims to raise £5,000 for Shelter Cymru by riding 1,000km-

Peter will be cycling 1,000km

Forget birthday cards and cake. Peter Munt-Davies won’t be celebrating his 75th birthday in the usual way. He’ll be cycling 1,000km to support Shelter Cymru.

Peter, whose niece works for the people and homes charity, is aiming to raise £5,000 by cycling from Seville to Santiago de Compostela in western Spain, including 10,000m of ascent.

“Hopefully, I’ll compete the route in 18 days,” said Peter, who is originally from Pembrokeshire and currently lives in Cádiz, Andalusia.

Peter has always been a keen cyclist and once cycled across Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to raise money for an addiction support charity.

“I’ve ridden bikes for most of my life,” he said. “In my opinion, Pembrokeshire is one of the best places you can find to cycle, but I am biased!”

Peter, who used to work as an Assistant Warden in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, will leave Seville on Tuesday 2 April and pedal along the Camino de Santiago – a traditional pilgrimage route.

Peter with his bike

Peter with his bike

He’s been preparing by getting out on his bike as much as possible and practicing with a GPS. He’ll be looking out for shell waymarks along the trail to make sure he’s on the right Via de la Plata route.

Peter said: “Once I’ve navigated my way out of an extremely confusing Sevilla, I’m looking forward to quiet roads and continuously changing scenery. I love the movement on a bike.”

He’s expecting the uphill stretches to be the most difficult element of his ride, adding: “1,000km is challenging enough, but add to that 10,000m of ascent.”

The retired teacher, who is also trained in acupuncture, is anticipating riding solo and staying in a different hostel every night to be a challenge and is also hoping for good weather, with no headwinds or rain.

He’ll be cycling up to 100km a day, with just three rest days planned for his three-week ride. The biggest climb he’ll face is 1,500m in a single day, but he’s excited for the downhill stretches.

He's looking forward to cycling on quiet roads

He’s looking forward to cycling on quiet roads

Peter said he’s most looking forward to arriving at the finishing line in the main square by Santiago de Compostela cathedral, where his wife Anne will be part of the welcoming party.

“I’m taking on this challenge for a variety of reasons,” he explained. “The two main ones are to celebrate my 75th birthday and to raise money. Shelter Cymru do such good work, I’d find it hard to think of another more deserving charity.”

Dad-of-one Peter is uncle to Krista Robinson, who works as Senior Solicitor within the Housing Services team. She has been working with Shelter Cymru for more than 20 years and said his choice of charity was “very close to my heart”.

Peter in Spain

Peter in Spain

Krista described his challenge as “amazing”, adding: “I can’t tell you how proud we all are of Pete. He’s always fun, entertaining and one for adventures, but he’s surpassed himself this time!

“What an incredible challenge. Best of luck in your adventure, Pete, and thank you for raising money for Shelter Cymru.”

Peter is aiming to raise £5,000 to help people facing and experiencing homelessness. Last year, Shelter Cymru helped more than 22,000 people in housing need in Wales.

Visit Peter’s Just Giving page to make a donation. 

27 March 2024

By Liz Day

‘There’s never been a more important time to act’ – Supporter takes on epic Mount Everest challenge

‘There’s never been a more important time to act’ – Supporter takes on epic Mount Everest challenge

Lauren will be one of 15 people taking on the challenge

11 days of trekking. 71 miles. 5,364m of altitude. It’s a huge challenge, but Lauren Carless is ready for her expedition to Everest Base Camp.

The financial planner from Cardiff is aiming to raise £3,000 for Shelter Cymru and Velindre Cancer Centre by taking on this epic fundraising hike in sub-zero conditions in the Himalayas.

“It’s always been on my bucket list,” said Lauren, who loved walking in the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park with her dad Tim when she was growing up.

“Naturally, I developed his love of hiking,” she said. “So when a friend told me she knew someone who was organising a trip to Mount Everest, it didn’t take me long to sign up.”

The 30-year-old runs her own business called Lauren Carless Financial Planning and is a member of the Business Network International (BNI) group in Cardiff Bay.

It was there she first met Neil Davies, who works as Regional Fundraiser for Shelter Cymru, and she immediately wanted to support the charity’s work.

Lauren and Neil collecting donations at Cardiff Christmas Festival

Lauren and Neil collecting donations at Cardiff Christmas Festival

“I’ve supported Shelter Cymru through BNI Cardiff Bay for the last few years and I care deeply about helping to end homelessness,” she explained.

“Neil is always presenting us with eye-opening statistics about people facing and experiencing homelessness in Wales.”

Last year, the people and homes charity helped more than 22,000 people in housing need in Wales, including nearly 7,000 dependent children.

Recently, Lauren volunteered at Cardiff Christmas Festival, helping to collect more than £700 in donations towards Shelter Cymru’s Winter Appeal.

“With the cost of living crisis continuing to affect Welsh communities, I feel like there’s never been a more important time to act,” she said.

Lauren in the mountains

Lauren in the mountains

Lauren, who will also be supporting Velindre Cancer Centre, has been training hard for the challenge, which will see her trek more than 70 miles to an altitude of 5,364m.

“I’m hitting the gym as much as I can. The stair climber machine has become my new best friend,” she laughed.

“I’m also getting out for hikes at weekends with the rest of the team who’ll be doing the trek. It’s been lovely getting to know everyone.”

Lauren will be one of 15 people taking on the challenge and is most looking forward to spending time with the other hikers.

“We’re all raising money for causes close to our hearts,” She said. “So the sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ will make it a very special trip. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Lauren on a training hike

Lauren on a training hike

She’s also excited to see the Himalayas – a part of the world she’s always wanted to visit – although is feeling nervous about the possibility of altitude sickness.

“We’ll take precautions,” she said. “We’ll have guides and medical professionals supporting us. I just want to finish the trek!”

With just weeks to go before flying to Lukla in Nepal, Lauren is busy thinking about her packing list. She added: “A lot of prep is going in to making sure I have the right kit.”

“With sub-zero temperatures and only being allowed to take 15kg on the small plane, I’ve had to think carefully about what I need.

“We have 71 miles of trekking ahead of us, ascending to 5,364m above sea level. We’ll be facing low oxygen levels, temperatures below freezing and no hot water for showers for 11 days.”

Lauren in her backpack

Lauren in her backpack

Lauren is aiming to raise £3,000 for Shelter Cymru and Velindre Cancer Centre. She said: “I’ve had a great response so far and want to say thank you to everyone who has kindly donated already.”

Neil added: “Thank you to Lauren, who’s taking on this mammoth challenge to raise vital funds for our work at Shelter Cymru.

“As a fundraiser, I feel really proud seeing the incredible achievements of our supporters. We’re so grateful to Lauren for all her support – from awareness raising to bucket collections.

“On behalf of the whole team at Shelter Cymru, I’d like to wish Lauren the best of luck for her expedition. Have a safe trip and we can’t wait to hear about your adventure when you get home.”

Visit Lauren’s Go Fund Me page to make a donation. 

14 February 2024

By Liz Day

Determined hiker walks more than 2,000 miles to raise funds for Shelter Cymru

Determined hiker walks more than 2,000 miles to raise funds for Shelter Cymru

Dani walked 2,340 miles in a year

A determined hiker wore through five pairs of shoes as she walked more than 2,000 miles in a year to raise funds for Shelter Cymru.

Dani Thomas completed Ultra Challenges across the UK, as well as spending hours on a treadmill at work, to raise hundreds of pounds to help people facing homelessness in Wales.

“I immediately felt compelled to help,” said Dani, who works for Monmouthshire Building Society. “Shelter Cymru’s work is essential and they inevitably need funds to keep doing it.”

The 34-year-old said it was during a session led by the people and homes charity at her work, back in 2022, that she decided to take on the endurance walking challenge.

“One of my favourite things to do outside of work is walking, so I wanted to put that to good use,” she explained. “I hoped it would not only empower me, but encourage other people too.”

Dani hopes her fundraising achievement will inspire other people too

Dani hopes her fundraising achievement will inspire other people too

Dani started her Steps For Shelter Cymru challenge in January 2023, aiming to walk 2,340 miles in 12 months, which is further than walking from Land’s End to John O’ Groats and back again.

To keep on track, she needed to average 6.5 miles a day, or 45 miles a week, and decided to sign up to 10 Ultra Challenge events, starting with 66 miles (106km) on the Isle of Wight in April.

Dani said one of the toughest moments came a month later, when she fell 30 miles (50km) into the Jurassic Coast route in Dorset. She was advised to stop after injuring her knee and ankle.

“It’s frustrating when you physically can’t finish due to injury or heat exhaustion,” explained Dani. “It also affects your mental strength.”

Determined to continue, Dani went on to complete 62 miles (100km) from London to Brighton – one of her personal highlights of the year, as she really enjoyed the route through the city.

Next, she headed to the Lake District, where she described the steep uphill sections of the course as “intense”, adding: “I walked it during a heatwave and even at 3.30am, I was sweating.”

A highlight for Dani was walking from London to Brighton

A highlight for Dani was walking from London to Brighton

Struggling with the unstable stones underfoot, Dani said she and a group of other walkers she met during the day supported each other through the challenging terrain.

Later in the summer, she had to withdraw from the Cotswold Way Challenge, due to heat exhaustion, but completed routes in the Peak District, North Downs, South West Coast and Chilterns.

Monmouthshire Building Society is a corporate partner to Shelter Cymru and Dani said another favourite moment of her challenge was walking on a treadmill at the branch in Newport in October.

Dani, Treasury Middle Office Manager, raised funds by inviting supporters to guess how many miles she would walk that day, adding: “I loved being in the branch and being able to meet members.”

Unfortunately, the treadmill overheated part way through the day, but never one to give up, Dani carried on at nearby PureGym to reach the seven hours she had planned.

Fundraising at Monmouthshire Building Society in Newport

Fundraising at Monmouthshire Building Society in Newport

Dani admitted that with a month to go, she doubted whether she could achieve her goal, but she stayed strong, and completed her challenge on 29 December – with two days to spare.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” she laughed. “I’m tired and achy but I did it! I’m so proud of this achievement.

“I achieved a lot in 2023, but this will be what I take forward with me as a symbol of not giving up.”

Dani, from St Brides, Newport, spent 780 hours walking in 2023 and raised more than £800 for Shelter Cymru. She said she was “immensely grateful” to everyone who had made a donation.

Dani's Ultra Challenge medals

Dani’s Ultra Challenge medals

Penny Salter, Fundraising Officer for Shelter Cymru, said: “We were absolutely blown away by the challenge Dani took on last year to raise money for Shelter Cymru – we’re so grateful to her and her colleagues at Monmouthshire Building Society for their incredible support. Congratulations, Dani – every step you took will make such a huge difference in these challenging times. Diolch o galon!”

Shelter Cymru helped more than 22,000 people last year, including nearly 7,000 dependent children, who were in housing need or experiencing homelessness.

There’s still time to donate through Monmouthshire Building Society’s Just Giving page.

17 January 2024

By Liz Day

Getting a bit stressed about Christmas?

‘It was a proud moment for me’ – Community Fundraiser Neil goes back to school

‘It was a proud moment for me’ – Community Fundraiser Neil goes back to school

Community Fundraiser Neil at Ysgol Gymraeg Gwynllyw

Walking up to the gates of Ysgol Gymraeg Gwynllyw took Community Fundraiser Neil Davies right back to his first day at school in the 1980s.

Neil had fond memories of his time in the classroom and was excited to be invited back 30 years later to speak to current pupils about his work at Shelter Cymru.

“It was a really proud moment for me,” said Neil, who dreamed as a youngster of growing up to work for a charity.

Neil, who has been working as Regional Fundraiser for South Wales for a year, was invited to Ysgol Gymraeg Gwynllyw in Pontypool as part of the First Give programme.

First Give encourages young people to identify social problems, like homelessness, in their communities and research charities which work to tackle those problems.

Pupils must work together on a social action project, which can include campaigning, raising awareness or fundraising for their chosen cause.

Rhiannon Youssef, Programme Manager at First Give, said the scheme has positive effects on students’ personal development, adding: “It also creates a more cohesive community, linking schools with charities operating in their local area.”

On stage at the First Give school final

Setting up for the First Give school final

During their second lesson, pupils are asked to decide which charity they would like to support and are encouraged to get in touch.

Several groups chose to support Shelter Cymru, including from Bishop Hedley High School in Merthyr Tydfil, Pentrehafod School in Swansea and Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff.

Neil was delighted to hear from the teachers and pupils and went along to meetings to tell them about Shelter Cymru’s work defending the right to a safe home in Wales.

He explained that Shelter Cymru uses advice, campaigns and support to fight the devastating impact of the housing emergency on people and society.

Neil continued to support the students throughout the term, as they worked on their presentations. He also went along to the final, where the winners were awarded a £1,000 grant for their charity.

Rhiannon said: “The highlight of the programme for me is attending the school final. It’s always such a joyous occasion and culmination of the whole programme, where we celebrate the hard work the year group have done for their charity.”

Neil explained there were a lot of benefits to taking part in First Give: “The possibility of potential new fundraisers, making greater links with the local community, the element of raising awareness and, of course, the possibility of winning the £1,000 grant.”

Between 2014 and 2023, First Give has empowered nearly 200,000 young people to make a difference, with 1,254 charities winning the £1,000 grant.

For more information about how you can support Shelter Cymru, visit our fundraising page

28 November 2023

By Liz Day

Reframing anti-social behaviour

By Jonathan Clode – Homelessness Prevention Project Co-ordinator

The term ‘anti-social behaviour’ will be familiar to most people. It will likely conjure images of hooded youths intimidating otherwise tranquil neighbourhoods, and noisy, drunken, uncaring attitudes that impinge upon considerate, law abiding ways. But this is all a question of perception, one often worsened by social anxieties the media is all too quick to fuel. The label of anti-social behaviour can be a debilitating stigma, one that sticks, and for some people leads to eviction from their homes.

Our new Shelter Cymru report, Reframing Anti-Social Behaviour: a review of homelessness prevention good practice in Wales, argues that it is time to start questioning the umbrella definitions we so readily apply to ASB, and instead look at it in more nuanced terms that actually recognise and try to meet the support needs of those deemed to be ‘anti-social.’

The end of the Covid 19 pandemic has regrettably seen a return to injunctions and possessions among landlords, both private and social.

In 2022, Shelter Cymru legal casework saw thirty social housing cases where possession was sought for issues related to anti-social behaviour. Worryingly, in over half of these cases, the tenant or a member of their family had support needs related to mental health, substance misuse, being a victim of domestic violence, as well as neurodiversity.

Anti-social behaviour is not just a housing issue, but it is clear that appropriate housing support has an important role to play in preventing and responding to it. Social landlords have made great strides in providing support to their tenants, so why are there still cases where people are losing their homes?

Over recent years understanding of the impact of adverse childhood experiences and the adoption of trauma informed and restorative practices has become more widespread; and our research found that many social landlords are adopting these holistic ways of working. But landlords and service providers need to be better equipped with resources and updated national guidance to help ensure that good practice is adopted more consistently across the country. The Wales Housing Management Standard for tackling anti-social behaviour hasn’t been reviewed since 2014 and landlords have no obligation to follow it beyond advice around best practice. Our drum is beating to the exact same tune almost ten years later: less enforcement, more prevention – great idea!

Evidence from our casework found that more challenging and complex cases are continuing to fall through the net. Our discussions with landlords and stakeholders suggested that this is because practices are too process led, staff engagement is inappropriate or inadequate, and the support needs of the alleged perpetrator are simply not being identified.

As well as the provision of housing related support services, the reconfiguration of housing management functions is also supporting some social landlords to adopt a more effective approach. Less focus on specific ASB teams and officers, and a switch to more support-focused roles with smaller caseloads, have enabled staff to support complainants and build better relationships between staff and tenants – something that the restorative model to supporting people puts at the heart of its ideology. The idea that you need to build a relationship with someone if you hope to try and help them has always underpinned the very idea of a meaningful support service.

However, housing support staff are not trained mental health professionals, and the ever swelling elephant in the room remains the lack of timely access to mental health services, given the high proportion of people accused of ASB who are also experiencing mental health problems. The link between ASB and mental health must be stated clearly. The vast majority of people with mental health problems do not commit ASB; however, among people who are accused of ASB, we found a high correlation with unmet mental health support need. This means that problems in accessing mental health services are contributing to avoidable homelessness.

It is also important that we recognise that ASB is often a stress response to toxic environments or difficult past experiences. Successful prevention means understanding people’s unique circumstances and triggers in order to prevent them going into that stress response. This type of work is relationship-based, person-centred and support-intensive, but is proven to deliver consistently good outcomes for the individuals involved. From a business perspective it can also assist landlords by reducing void and court costs.

Meaningful partnership working is key to ensuring people have a decent chance of sustaining their tenancies, from allocation and tenancy sign-up, to providing appropriate and timely interventions if things start to go wrong. There are some fantastic examples of community services working together, and for many of them there are common threads that contribute to their success. This involves taking the time to understand the challenges and constraints that each service is under, spending less time playing pass the human parcel, and keeping one eye on the here and now while another is looking down the road to ensure the parcel doesn’t get dumped in the middle of it.

The term ‘anti-social behaviour’ is in itself problematic. It is a term too readily pinned against a number of behaviours, all of which vary greatly in presentation and have a variety of root causes. Perhaps we might recognise the potential for anti-social behaviour traits in ourselves, ones that often fly under the radar because of the way they appear: it’s a balmy weekend, the sun has gone down, we’re having a select gathering, surely no-one round here has work tomorrow, why not open that third bottle of Marlborough sauvignon blanc and bring Alexa out into the garden… anti-social! Says who?

Labelling someone as a perpetrator of ASB leads to an instant judgement that can have detrimental implications in relation to how that person is perceived, particularly among support services. Perhaps if we dispensed with the term ‘anti-social behaviour’ we might find ourselves better able to make a more thoughtful assessment of the particular issues being presented. It could also lead to the type of approach where a person would receive support on the basis of their need at that time, as opposed to a response to an allegation of behaviour.

Perspective matters, and for some people it can define their lives. By reframing ASB as a symptom of unmet support needs, we will be better able to give social housing tenants a voice that isn’t just sought when something has gone wrong, but rather heard at a time that empowers them to be, and remain, part of a community in a settled home with access to the support that they need. In this way, we can build towards stronger and more inclusive communities across Wales.

You can read our report on anti social behaviour here >

For further information about this report or about our wider research work to prevent homelessness in Wales, please email [email protected]

‘It saved our family’ – Shelter Cymru calls on Welsh Government to prioritise mortgage rescue

Mum-of-three Amanda Lawrence was unable to pay her mortgage after becoming unwell

As she fielded calls from bailiffs and pleaded with her mortgage lender, mum-of-three Amanda Lawrence spent every moment thinking about what she would do if she lost her family home.

The family found out the day before their eviction hearing that their mortgage rescue application had been successful and, thanks to the scheme, are happy in their home 15 years later.

Amanda said: “I was spending all my time on the phone to the mortgage company, explaining: ‘We can’t pay you. Please don’t evict us.’”

Amanda moved into her house in Gibbonsdown, Barry, with her 10-year-old son in 1998 and initially rented from Vale of Glamorgan Council. Her partner moved in two years later.

She was working part-time as an administrative assistant and he was working full-time in product safety. The couple decided to buy their home, with help from a government scheme, in 2003.

They became owners of the mid-terrace house, which was built in the 1970s and has three bedrooms and a garden. They got married and had two children.

“It was going really well – we were a happy family,” said Amanda. “But then things started to go wrong.”

Amanda suffered with pelvic pain during pregnancy. The pain, which usually goes away after birth, persisted but the condition was not diagnosed straight away.

“It took a long time to get a diagnosis and my health really deteriorated,” she said. “I couldn’t take the kids to school.”

Amanda Lawrence at her home in Barry

Amanda’s family found out the day before their eviction hearing that their mortgage rescue application had been successful

Amanda was unable to return to work due to the pain and her life became a blur of hospital appointments.

She said the family reached a low point in 2008, as her husband desperately tried to juggle full-time work with caring for his wife and looking after the children.

“It was getting harder and harder,” she recalled. “He was trying to do everything and he just couldn’t do it anymore. He broke down.”

He left his job and became a full-time carer for Amanda. As they spent everything they had on their mortgage, the family could not afford repairs and lived in the cold when their boiler broke.

“It was the most stressful year of my life,” recalled Amanda. “I was spending all my time on the phone to the mortgage lender, explaining: ‘We can’t pay you.’

“I was pleading: ‘Please don’t evict us.’ They were quite understanding, but they still had to follow their procedures. I had calls from the bailiffs.

“We were constantly having to think about what we’d do if we lost our home. What would we put in storage? We were so overwhelmed, we didn’t know who to turn to. It was a very tense time for us.”

As they struggled to keep up with mortgage payments, the couple went to Citizens Advice and were referred to Shelter Cymru. Their caseworker suggested the mortgage rescue scheme.

Mum-of-three Amanda Lawrence supports mortgage rescue

Thanks to mortgage rescue, Amanda is still happy in her home 15 years on

Mortgage rescue is a scheme enabling a household to remain in their home through full or part-purchase, supported by grant funding, by a social or community landlord.

The tenure of the property changes so the household either rents the property – at a social or affordable rent – or becomes a part-owner, reducing their monthly outgoings.

“Our caseworker was lovely and we trusted her to help us,” explained Amanda. “She was the only one who actually took the time to update us and explain what was going on.

“She understood that she was fighting to keep us in our family home. To the mortgage company, it was just another property.”

The family were told the day before their eviction hearing that their application for mortgage rescue had been approved.

They became tenants of Newydd Housing Association, who carried out maintenance the family had not been able to afford, like repairing the boiler and shower and installing a wheelchair ramp.

Thanks to mortgage rescue, the family are still in their home 15 years on. Amanda, 51, who volunteers for a housing association, would like to see the scheme brought back to help other people.

She said: “Home, to us, is stability and safety – our sanctuary. I wish they would bring the scheme back. It saved our family. We were lucky, but I know of other people who have lost their homes.

“I worry about how bad it is now and how many families with young children are at risk. It’s heart-breaking.”

She accepts the scheme involves upfront costs, but believes it avoids further hidden expenditure down the line and offers value for money in the long-term.

Jennie Bibbings, of Shelter Cymru

Jennie Bibbings, Head of Campaigns for Shelter Cymru

Read the full mortgage rescue briefing in our policy and research library 

Wendy Dearden, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Shelter Cymru, said: “We are becoming increasingly worried about the impact of increased mortgage interest rates.

“We are concerned for current owners coming to the end of fixed-term arrangements and facing significant increases to their monthly payments.”

The Bank of England has predicted around four million UK households will face higher mortgage payments during 2023, with the typical payment up by £250.

That takes the average monthly mortgage bill from £750 to £1,000, which is expected to cause severe financial difficulty for 220,000 households.

Wendy added: “Most people can only imagine the stress of potentially losing a home which they have emotionally and financially invested in.

“The gauge on that stress moves ever higher each month as the arrears figures grow and the inevitability of the situation takes hold. For a growing number, this is becoming reality.”

Wendy explained that mortgage arrears and repossession cases still, thankfully, represent a small proportion of Shelter Cymru’s casework, but the numbers are beginning to rise.

There was a 45% increase from August to November 2022, compared with the same period in 2021 – the team saw 126 cases in 2022, compared to 87 in 2021.

Jennie Bibbings, Head of Campaigns for Shelter Cymru, said: “We recommend that the Welsh Government makes creating a new mortgage rescue scheme for Wales a priority now.”

23 January 2023

By Liz Day

Winds of change: The legacy of Storm Ciara and Dennis

by Dewi John

The sky above us is grey… It is that time of year yet again, storm season, which for many people across Wales can only mean one thing… flooding. This will mean sleepless nights for hundreds of households across Wales – who worry about their homes every time it rains, thinking back to the memory of what happened this month two years ago. February 2020 brought with it record levels of flooding across Wales. Our communities are still dealing with the scars of these storms.

Shelter Cymru believes we must tackle our un-readiness to deal with the symptoms of climate change, especially as the Deputy Climate Change Minister warns that “the consequences of not acting will be profound for Wales”. Climate change will see sea levels rise by at least 1.3 – 2.6 feet by 2100. If we do not act now to mitigate the impacts of flooding and extreme weather events, we will further exacerbate existing inequalities, which will result in disruption to our infrastructure and will  cause some of our coastal communities to  disappear forever by 2050.

Together with our partners Tai Pawb and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, we are campaigning to enshrine the right to adequate housing into Welsh law. We’re pleased that the recent Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru includes a commitment to a White Paper to explore such a right. A right to adequate housing can help us to combat both the impacts of climate change but also catalyse our journey to achieving net zero.

A right to adequate housing will mean investment in flood defences for parts of Wales which are more susceptible to flooding, bringing a cost/benefit ratio of more than 5:1. It will help spur on the current Welsh Government’s ambitious housebuilding commitments, and, in the uncertain future, it will hardwire a commitment to improving people’s homes –  ensuring that good quality, greener homes are front and centre of the delivery agenda as well as defending and decarbonising our existing homes across Wales.

We welcome the commitment within the Cooperation Agreement to commission an independent review of the Section 19 reports produced into extreme flooding in Wales in the winter of 2020 and 2021, with the commitment to act on the recommendations made. We also welcome the commitment to deliver an increased investment into flood and coastal erosion risk management and mitigation over the course of this Senedd term to minimise the likelihood of flooding of homes by 2050.  We must not however, underestimate the scale of the challenge we face and its importance. Realising a right to adequate housing will require agile and deliberate collaboration across the layers of governance. This however, is the right thing to do, to ensure that the painful lessons of two years ago are repeated as infrequently as possible in the future.

Shelter Cymru believes that home is everything and that everyone deserves a good home. But unless our current and new homes can withstand the pressures of extreme weather events, our shared housing emergency will only become further entrenched by climate change.

There’s no place like home: dealing with LGBTQ+ discrimination within the housing sector

As we mark LGBTQ+ History Month, it is important that we reflect on the past and take note of the progress that has been made, but it is equally important to look towards the future and learn from our shared past to create a more equal Wales. Recent surveys have consistently shown that the Welsh public supports LGBTQ+ equality and it is imperative that we deliver on this goal.  A 2019 BBC Wales report showed that 56% of the population felt very comfortable about an adult being in a same-sex relationship, whilst only 8% felt not comfortable at all. At Shelter Cymru we welcome these statistics and the recently published Welsh Government LGBTQ+ action plan.

A recent story from BBC London has shone a spotlight on the issue of LGBTQ+ discrimination within the housing sector, which is still a problem in 2022, with a gay couple being refused a house viewing and purchase. It is important that we take notice and stand together against prejudice and discrimination. We know that this issue isn’t just limited to LGBTQ+ people purchasing properties but also trying to access private rental properties. Our soon-to-be-released report based on a survey of private landlords in Wales shows that although the vast majority of landlords are accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, a minority of prejudiced attitudes still persists. Although over 90% of landlords said they would let a trans person, 4% of landlords said that they would not rent to someone who is transgender on the basis of old stereotypes directed at the LGBTQ+ community such as promiscuity, with one landlord saying “with regular different partners you would have your property trashed.”

We know from our research that LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately at risk of homelessness due to familial rejection. The same report showed that this disproportionate risk is even greater among transgender people due to family rejection, relationship breakdown and economic precariousness. To make matters worse there is a mental health crisis within the LGBTQ+ community, with an increased risk of mental illness and an increased risk of suicide as a result of bullying and discrimination. Clearly more needs to be to encourage and facilitate joint working between public organisations to tackle the scourge of hate crimes in Wales. A recent Vice report highlights the true extent of what discrimination can lead to: homophobic hate crimes have risen by 210% over the past six years in the UK, whilst transphobic hate crime has risen by 332%. To help tackle the higher risk of mental illness and suicide within the LGBTQ+ community, we must all work together to end the scourge of violence and discrimination, otherwise we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our shared past.