Ahead of the Welsh Government’s rough sleeper count, Wales’s leading homelessness charity, The Wallich, has released an in-depth report into the types of people it supports on the streets of South Wales. It goes on to make seven recommendations to reduce homelessness across the country.
The Wallich’s Street Based Lifestyle Monitor (SBL) shows the number of people encountered by the charity’s Rough Sleeper Intervention Teams (RSITs), in Cardiff, Newport, Bridgend and Swansea, between November 2017 and October 2018. The report aims to reflect a wider picture of homelessness in order to understand the root causes and help inform future policy.
- South Wales RSITs supported 2,833 people in 2017-18, a 9% increase on the previous year.
- Contacts across South Wales rose by 62%. more contact amongst the same people – suggesting an increase in entrenched rough sleepers.
- The average age of a client is 42. An increase in the oldest age bracket might result from barriers to long-term accommodation, meaning people are growing proportionally older as they are on the streets for longer periods.
- 83% of clients were male.
The Wallich’s RSITs who collected the data provide hot drinks, food, and signposting to appropriate support for people living street-based lifestyles. The teams, as part of this work, collect data on the people with whom they engage. As such, the data from the RSITs can be used to build a quantitative picture of people living street-based lifestyles in South Wales.
The Welsh Government is due to publish its own national rough sleeper count on Tuesday 5 February. The Wallich has made seven recommendations for decision-makers, like the Welsh Government, and other organisations working with people experiencing homelessness. They include:
- Different agencies (housing, health, criminal justice) need to work together more effectively and focus on trauma-informed support.
- Introduce Enhanced Harm Reduction Centres (where people can use drugs in medically supervised conditions).
- Abolition of the ‘priority need’ system in Wales with one that facilitates support for anyone when they need it.
Lindsay Cordery-Bruce, The Wallich’s chief executive, said, “Our data suggests that here in Wales, our support is in more demand than ever before. However, trends are changing; in some areas there’s a decrease in the number of new people needing our rough sleeping services yet we’re seeing more of the same people over and over again, which suggests that we have a crisis of entrenched homelessness. People, who have been on the streets for a long time, are finding it increasingly difficult to break the cycle of homelessness.
“Clearly, the support on offer for people experiencing homelessness isn’t working for everyone. Those who are entrenched have the barrier of navigating more complicated systems or perhaps aren’t suited to traditional hostels.
“The impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and complex trauma must also be recognised. We must find ways to work therapeutically and in a psychologically-informed way with homeless and vulnerable people who have often experienced horrific and significant trauma throughout their lives. There is no quick fix to the current situation; this is a failing in our sector which needs to be recognised, well-funded and tackled with more innovative ways of getting people off the streets and into safety.
“There has also been a tangible, troubling shift in the whole narrative of homelessness. Negative rhetoric and blame culture is slipping through the gaps where failure presents itself; this is as distracting as it is unhelpful. I’m confident that our rational, evidence-based and people-focused recommendations could be monumental in reducing homelessness, if implemented.”
Andy (56), who now lives in Swansea, experienced homelessness for a number of years across Wales and the rest of the UK. Andy has had issues with alcohol for most of his life, this affected his relationships and mental health, it meant he never stayed in accommodation for long and was continually implicated in the criminal justice system; he is a perfect example of how you can become entrenched in homelessness once you fall into the cycle. Andy said, “I followed the same pattern – getting drunk, sleeping rough, always ending with a stint in jail and getting moved on to be somewhere else’s problem.
“After receiving support for my issues with drink, finding the right housing and coming to terms with my criminal record, I’m in a much better position. I’ve now been in my own flat for almost a year, I’m less angry and I’ve been sober for almost three years. I have new job as a support worker and I’m going to use my life skills and help others. I’ve found out who Andy really is.”
Readers of the Street Based Lifestyle Monitor are encouraged to use the StreetLink service, of which The Wallich are a partner in Wales. It exists so that an individual can register someone they see on the street. This data is passed to the relevant local authority, who can then follow up to see if they can help that person engage with support. Anyone can register themselves, or someone else who is rough sleeping, on Streetlink via telephone on 0300 500 0914, the simple smartphone app, or the website, www.streetlink.org.uk