Ahead of the Welsh Government’s rough sleeper count out tomorrow (5th Feb), The Wallich has released an in-depth report into who it supports – making key recommendations to cut numbers.
The charity’s Street Based Lifestyle Monitor (SBL) shows those encountered by the charity’s Rough Sleeper Intervention Teams (RSITs), in Cardiff, Newport, Bridgend and Swansea, between November 2017 and October 2018 – aiming to reflect a wider picture of homelessness in order to understand the root causes and help inform future policy.
Wallich chief executive Lindsay Cordery-Bruce 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.”
She added: “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.”
Key stats from the report include:
- 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 among 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
- 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.
As part of this work, the teams collect data on the people with whom they engage.
The data from the RSITs can be used to build a quantitative picture of people living street-based lifestyles in South Wales.
On that basis, The Wallich has made seven recommendations for decision-makers, like the Welsh Government, and other organisations working with people experiencing homelessness.
- Different agencies (housing, health, criminal justice) need to work together more effectively and focus on trauma-informed support
- Introduce Enhanced Harm Reduction Centres – where drugs can be used in medically supervised conditions
- Abolition of the ‘priority need’ system in Wales with one that facilitates support for anyone when they need it
The Wallich data also makes a strong case for the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and complex trauma to be recognised.
Cordery-Bruce said: “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.”
She added: “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.”
Case Study: “I’ve found out who Andy really is”
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, and meant he never stayed in accommodation for long and was continually implicated in the criminal justice system.
To The Wallich, Andy 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.”
He added:”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 lifeskills 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
An individual can register someone they see on the street with the data 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