With an implicit implication that people rough sleeping cause the most disorder in the city centre, FOR Cardiff responded with a public statement which suggested more policing and for our breakfast run to stop engaging with people on St Mary Street.
“Homelessness is often a divisive subject based on lack of understanding, misdirected emotions and an uncomfortable acknowledgement that poverty to this level still exists in 2019. At The Wallich we are extremely disappointed in this communication from FOR Cardiff as we have real concerns about the language used and the actions suggested by some members of the business community. This is a hardline, hostile response to a genuine human crisis.
To be clear, we have not been asked to cease our breakfast run, nor will we cease. A public communication has been released indicating that we have been asked to deliver our services elsewhere. This is false.
The Wallich Rough Sleepers Intervention Team, or breakfast run, is a vital service, delivered in partnership with Cardiff Council and by a vehicle funded by the people of Cardiff via a South Wales Echo campaign. It is often a first point of contact for people who find themselves homeless. It offers hot food, advice and signposting support to help get people off the streets and into accommodation.
As winter starts to set in, we are currently seeing upwards of 50 people on the streets of the city centre each morning – more than double the numbers compared to 6 years ago. Welsh Government figures show rough sleeping across Wales increased by 45% between 2015 and 2018. This is a national emergency and we cannot and should not try to push it aside to any periphery.
Given the Welsh Government’s recent commitment to homelessness outreach, in their response to the Homelessness Action Group appointed by the Minister, we would be very surprised if they supported this approach either. They have laid out their plans to make outreach more assertive.
Assertive outreach works with the most disengaged people sleeping rough. For assertive outreach to work it needs to be persistent, purposeful and needs to go to the people in need, not expect them to come to it.
The idea that offering people basic human rights and checking on their welfare is encouraging them to sleep in the city centre is ridiculous. People sleep rough in areas of high footfall for a number of reasons – safety, the warmth of heating vents, the community of others, wanting to feel part of society – not the lure of a bacon roll and a polystyrene cup of coffee at 7am.
If the business community of St Mary’s Street wish to see a real decrease in antisocial behaviour, their concern would be better spent addressing the behaviour of revelers pouring out of bars and nightclubs on a Friday and Saturday night.
This cost of cleaning litter, police time and pressure on the NHS is apparently acceptable as it comes via paying ‘customers’.
There is clearly a double standard for those who can pay for their behaviour to be tolerated.
Where there is criminal behaviour, such as the dealing of drugs, happening within the rough sleeping population of Cardiff we agree that this must absolutely be tackled. People sleeping rough are often targeted by drug dealers and if we can remove the supply chain we should do so.
What we shouldn’t do is target and punish vulnerable people purely because of their housing situation. Being homeless leads to not being able to shower or wash and having nowhere to store your belongings. It leads to being excluded from places to use the toilet. Trauma can also lead to people using drugs or alcohol to numb the pain they are feeling.
What we need to do is tackle the social inequalities that lead to this situation and look with kindness and compassion at what we can do to make life better for people who are living in this way. We need a community response to homelessness where Government, the public, charities and businesses work together, not against each other.”
Photo: © Copyright Jaggery