The dire reality of living rough in Wales in 2021
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
A couple suffering mental health issues and forced to sleep on a dirty mattress in the doorway of disused office buildings, said they just want a permanent roof over their heads.
Nigel Gray, 53, and his partner Elizabeth Jones, 50, have been together for around two years.
It hasn’t been easy, both suffering from complex mental health issues and Elizabeth having the added burden of physical problems.
They say they’ve been shunted from one temporary shelter to another, sometimes being kicked out because the accommodation was needed for holidaymakers.
Elizabeth said she has even been reduced to sharing a two-bed privately rented flat with nine children on Brighton Road in Rhyl in the past.
Two weeks ago Nigel, Elizabeth and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly were in temporary digs in Rhos-on-Sea, arranged by Denbighshire county council, when Nigel had a “mental health breakdown”.
Police were called after he threatened to harm himself and he was taken into custody for his own protection.
Nigel wasn’t arrested and he wasn’t charged, according to a letter sent to Denbighshire council by Shelter and seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).
Denbighshire council declared them “intentionally homeless” after they were asked to leave their temporary accommodation, said the letter, which also disputes that particular classification of them.
Shelter is asking for an urgent review of their case and temporary accommodation to be found for them while it progresses.
After his “breakdown” the authorities wanted Nigel sectioned he claimed but he insisted he wouldn’t leave Elizabeth and her 17 year-old daughter Tilly alone on the streets, after their last night in accommodation.
He was signposted to mental health support services and he said it’s helping him.
What isn’t, he said, is living rough in the wind and rain on a mattress, in a doorway of a disused office block in Denbighshire.
“I’ve always worked but I’ve had a difficult life,” Nigel said. “I can’t find work with nowhere to live – I want to work.
“The foodbank has been really good to us but this is no way to live, we’ve both got mental health problems and Elizabeth has physical issues.”
Elizabeth’s daughter Tilly is living in a bike shed around the corner from her mum and just wants them all to have somewhere permanent to live.
As torrential rain poured down she said: “It’s a f***ing joke. I want to be with my mum but we’re just kicked out onto the streets.”
When the LDRS visited the family, in driving rain and wind, Elizabeth was almost reduced to tears after someone, realising their situation, left a plastic carrier bag full of “goodies” by the damp mattress they call home.
Heart-rendingly she looked through the toiletries and snacks gifted to them and marvelled at a stack of disposable plastic cups which meant they had something to drink out of rather than bottles.
“Please thank the person who left this for us when you write this,” said Elizabeth.
She has nine children, most of whom live across the north of Wales. she said one is in care because of her situation, while another is in sheltered accommodation.
“No-one should be left homeless – we live in a doorway. They told me it’s going to take 10 years to house us. I feel worthless for my children.”
Everything they own apart from one large suitcase and a couple of bags they lug around with them is in storage.
The council has a duty to house rough sleepers but, in what is a complex situation, Elizabeth and Nigel also need other support to make it successful.
While on the streets they’ve been threatened with physical violence and live in fear each night.
Elizabeth said: “I wake up at night screaming because I think someone is standing there. We just want a permanent place to live.”
Homelessness has become an increasingly bigger problem for councils to tackle during the pandemic and one which they are worried will continue to grow as we come out of it.
A spokesman for Denbighshire council said: “We are currently working with the family and Shelter Cymru in relation to this situation. It would be inappropriate to comment further on individual cases.”
Shelter Cymru has also been approached for comment on the family’s situation.