The fabulous bacon boys

The rebirth of Cardiff as a commercial and cultural centre has seen an influx of people from all over the country and further afield. But if things do not work out they can all too easily find  themselves on the streets. David Craik spent a day with the multi-agency team reaching out to rough sleepers.

It is 6.30am at the Cardiff night shelter run by Wallich Clifford Community and the homelessness charity’s rough sleepers intervention team is preparing for its daily breakfast run across the
city. It has two aims: to find people who have spent the night on the streets and to feed them.

As the aroma of frying bacon wafts from the kitchen, members of the team, created by Wallich Clifford and Cardiff Council in 1996 to improve the access of social services to homeless people,
explain their routine.

“I go out on the breakfast run twice a week,” says outreach worker Jeff Rees. “Last time we found nine rough sleepers but, whatever the number, it gives us an important point of contact with them. We can gauge what their problems are and how we can best help.”

Rough sleepers are advised about the accommodation options available, including overnight stays, other social services that can offer support and about the Night Bus project, another partnership between the council and Wallich (see All aboard the night bus).

Rees says the team follows a set route. “We know where the popular places for sleeping rough are but sometimes the sleepers we find will tell us about other locations.

“You get about 30 rough sleepers in the summer and 10 in the winter. Also rough sleepers used to be the old gentlemen of the road but now they are much younger.”

The bacon sandwiches are bagged up and ready so project worker Paul Elliott and I hit the road. All the food is prepared at the shelter which is open between 8pm and 9.30am and holds 12
people. Two members of staff work at the centre at all times.

Joining us on the journey is Cardiff Council’s social services spokesperson, Rob Webb. He says it is unusual for services to be taken to the clients. “We get the services to them, be that accommodation, social work or health, including alcohol and drug assistance, rather than wait for them to come to us. I don’t know of any other council in the UK which does this.”

Webb criticises councils which fail to accept they have a homelessness problem and have made it difficult for rough sleepers to access even soup kitchens. “We don’t agree with this. You can’t ship out the problem,” he says.

Webb explains that this approach has given the council a clearer picture of the rough sleeping problem in the city and allows it to monitor it continuously. “By 10am I can have exact figures on the number of rough sleepers last night. As far as we know we are the only council that has these statistics. We can provide them because we do not rely on a third party. We do it ourselves.”

As usual the first stop has been reached outside the city’s main railway station. “People get to know what time you are coming,”  says Webb. But at the first few stops no rough sleepers are found.

“The number of rough sleepers stays static here unlike elsewhere even though our services act like a magnet to homeless people in Wales,” he says.

At the next stop a young man is sleeping under a tree head to toe in a sleeping blanket. “He’s a new one to us. We’ve asked him if he wants breakfast but he says no.”

In these cases Elliott says the best thing is to leave and return the next day. “Hopefully, we will build a relationship with him. After a couple of visits we will probe for a name and ask whether he has approached any agencies.”

We move on and find another rough sleeper in a doorway. Wrapped in a turquoise sleeping bag, the man, Jamie, explains that he has been sleeping rough for three weeks after a row with his girlfriend. He is wary of going to a hostel. “You get more drugs there than you do on the street,” he says.

This is a common reaction. Elliott says: “They view hostels negatively. But we’ve told Jamie to come down to our office and we can do a full appraisal. We can find out why he is homeless, whether he needs to see a doctor and get him into one of our hostels.”

Wallich can hunt for hostel places across the city using its “e-roof ” computer system which flags up empty rooms.

Next, we find a couple, Anne and Baz, whom Rees knows well. “Anne isn’t well and we’ve tried to get them into accommodation but they don’t want to go. In the end they have to want to change.”

Anne is a big fan of Elliott. “He’s a good man. He looks after me,” she says after accepting a bacon roll and a cup of tea.

Back at the night shelter, Elliott notes the names of the rough sleepers he has met this morning.

So how does he find working with the council? “We get on very well. This is outreach in its purest form.”


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