Spotlight on Cardiff’s homeless raises questions
A new series of three 30-minute programmes starting tonight on BBC One Wales is likely to generate plenty of interest and raise serious questions about the situation of Cardiff’s homeless at the start of 2017. Cardiff: Living on the Streets begins on Tuesday 31 January at 10.40 p.m. on BBC1 Wales and all three programmes give a powerful, and sometimes hard to watch, insight into the lives and issues faced by people living on the streets in Cardiff.
Rough sleeping and begging on the streets of Cardiff has visibly increased, and this is a huge concern to all of the services trying to engage with homeless people to help and support their move off the streets, as well as to a city that is developing its reputation as a thriving and attractive European capital.
Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of Huggard said, “Huggard was glad to support Gritty Productions Ltd in the making of these hard-hitting programmes and hopes that they will raise awareness and questions about how Cardiff can best support some of the most excluded and vulnerable individuals in our city.”
Whilst Huggard provides the largest number of emergency beds for rough sleepers in the city, it is not the only service provider, but Huggard is often asked why people are told by homeless people on the streets that they would rather sleep in a doorway than in emergency accommodation provided by Huggard or other providers in Cardiff. The answer to this question is not straightforward and to some extent reflects the social and personal issues that cause homelessness and affect homeless people.
It is often assumed that there must be something wrong with the services of Huggard and other providers, and as an organisation working with and accommodating rough sleepers, and wanting to avoid complacency, this is a question Huggard often asks itself. People are still ‘choosing’ to sleep in doorways rather than access emergency bed spaces and this means that all of the service providers in Cardiff must constantly review and assess their own services to ensure that they are as accessible as possible to vulnerable people on the streets. There is a lot of communication between service providers, particularly around meeting the needs of specific individuals on the streets, and this helps to shape provision. So why is there still a problem?
Poor mental health can often be a huge barrier for homeless people to access support and accommodation. Services working with homeless people in Cardiff are constantly seeking to provide access to mental health support and many organisations, including Huggard, provide mental health first aid training to staff, as well as working closely with Cardiff and the Vale’s mental health Assertive Outreach Team. What else can be done?
In Cardiff, there has been a huge growth in visible street culture activities, including begging and street based substance misuse, and often these two issues go hand in hand. Huggard has seen a huge increase in the use of heroin among the homeless community in Cardiff and we provide support and harm reduction services, but these services are under strain due to the increase in demand and limited funding.
Such addictions are both desperate and expensive and there are some individuals in the city who prioritise their need to generate money on the streets above their need for shelter. This presents a real problem to emergency accommodation services which need to close their doors at a reasonable hour to minimise disturbance and allow those accessing the service to get a night’s sleep.
But if someone is genuinely reliant on begging for their only income, why will they often, quite understandably, create or embellish stories to explain why they can’t or don’t access the services that are there to help them? Richard Edwards explains that “Huggard works regularly with a number of rough sleepers who often tell members of the public that they don’t access our services, for one reason or another, in order to create necessary sympathy and support. What is important is that the public continues to support services that are geared up and experienced in helping people off the streets.”
It is important to note that many rough sleepers do not have a substance misuse issue and never beg. Many rely on established services such as Huggard’s day centre which provides free soup and meals, together with advice and support, the Wallich’s breakfast run, the Salvation Army’s Bus Project and the churches’ evening soup run to meet their needs. In turn, as a charity, Huggard is dependent on funding, financial support and donations in order to provide these frontline services effectively.
Richard Edwards explains, “The life expectancy of someone sleeping rough in the UK is 47, our task is to engage with people and provide them with the support to get them off the streets rather than only providing basic services that meet their immediate needs.”
Huggard would urge everyone to watch Cardiff: Living on the Streets. More info can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04qytm0
You can donate to Huggard’s work here: www.justgiving.com/huggard
- In the three months from October to December 2016, Huggard accommodated 268 different people in our emergency overnight accommodation (a 12% increase on 2015)
- Our day centre supported 804 different people (a 28% rise on 2015), of which 538 had not been accommodated at night by any of Huggard’s projects (a 43% rise on 2015)
- During this period the day centre ran 197 development activities to build confidence, improve independent living skills and employability. This shows that many people are coming to Huggard and the use of our services is unfortunately growing.
- In 2016 we generated £1.3m in benefits for people referred to and accessing the day centre and this has enabled many to break their dependence on begging and to engage with accommodation services that require them to be in receipt of Housing Benefit.
- This is a service that Huggard feels needs to expand to meet the growing and complex needs of those seeking our advice and support.
- On occasion, Huggard may need to exclude someone from our service due to them presenting a serious risk to other service users or staff. While we try to keep these necessary exclusions to a minimum, and for the shortest period of time, there will occasionally be people who have no alternative but to sleep rough. When this happens Huggard will provide bedding and suitable clothing.
- In Cardiff, over the summer months, there are 45 emergency bed spaces provided by four organisations, of which Huggard provides 20 spaces.
- In the winter months of 2016/17, this number increased to 97 bed spaces, of which Huggard provides 40. The others are provided directly by the Council, The Wallich, Cardiff YMCA, the Salvation Army and the churches, who all do a fantastic job.
- Groucho Marx once said “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member”, and of course there are a very small group of entrenched rough sleepers in the city that do not want to either engage in any services or be around other homeless people. Cardiff Council employs an excellent outreach team that works with these entrenched rough sleepers, supporting their welfare and encouraging them towards appropriate services.
- There are some people begging on the streets of Cardiff who are often assumed to be homeless but have accommodation and these numbers are seen to increase in the city when there are major events on.
- In the run-up to Christmas, but not exclusively so, some of the most lucrative times for begging are in the small hours of the morning when office Christmas parties come to an end and people are making their way home from pubs and clubs in the city centre.
- On a single day in the run-up to Christmas in 2016, Huggard’s day centre, which provides an unparalleled range of services, provided support to 32 rough sleepers who spent the previous night on the street, in addition to the numbers who accessed emergency and hostel accommodation across the city.