What this Welsh council plans to do about its homeless problem
Lewis Smith, local democracy reporter
It is a cold autumnal day in the bustling town of Neath, an area of south Wales known for its scenic views, heavy industrial past, and popular rugby team.
Though as the local shops and businesses begin to close up for the day, and workers make their way home, there is one group of people who will remain where they are.
Settling in for the night on local benches and doorways around the town are just a few of the homeless residents of Neath Port Talbot, who have gathered to indulge in the company and support they claim only each other can offer.
Among the half dozen or so here carrying belongings in suitcases, there is a sense of tension at the current situation, underlined by what can only be described as a feeling of fear that they could be forgotten about in a cost-of-living crisis that is currently pushing many families across Wales to the financial brink.
Phillip Turner, 41, has been on the streets of Neath for the last four years, and says despite this economic crisis, and difficulties he faces on a daily basis, he is still hopeful that he can turn his life around.
He said: “For me, I used to have a wife and kids with a house but now as you can see I’ve gone from all that to nothing.
“I’ve basically been homeless on and off for the last four years since I lost my son, which led to me getting involved in situations with drugs. Even though I’m clean now it got me to the point where I’m sleeping outside on the streets, which is not very nice.
“It’s hard, and to be honest when you are homeless like this the years just seem to slip by you. Every day trying to find a place to charge my phone, or sitting on the floor waiting to see if someone recognises me and might give me a couple of pounds.
“I never ask or beg people for money because I know how hard everyone has it at the moment, even though for us on the street the situation is worse. I want people to know my story either way because I think it might help others like me in the future, but also because I want to make sure we’re not forgotten.
“In a lot of ways it does feel like the only support we have is with other homeless people at the moment, but if I could be rehomed it would just mean the world to me.
“I think I would break down in tears as it would mean I could really try and get myself back on my feet. I used to be a manager at B&Q before all this so having a place to live would really be a big step towards helping me get back in to work and turning things around. ”
Peace of mind
Indy Buckley, 21, is also homeless in the Neath area, and says while she has been homeless since she was 17, the thought of being given support through housing is something that could potentially change her life for the better.
She added: “I’ve been homeless now for four years, since I was 17, when my grandparents who looked after me passed away. I’ve been waiting for housing since then and if I could get accommodation somewhere safe it would really give me peace of mind and help me to lead a normal life.
“I’m not doing that at the moment, sleeping outside anywhere I can or sofa surfing. Being homeless is definitely not easy, as it’s a hard way of life that’s taking me down a path of alcoholism and drugs which I don’t want to be on. We hear people in the government saying that they want to rehouse us and help, so hopefully that help comes sooner than later and we can get off the streets.”
The Welsh Government published its Ending Homelessness in Wales strategy in 2021, after the Covid-19 pandemic was said to have resulted in a crisis in homelessness, that needed a radical change and a shift towards early preventative actions and a rapid rehousing model in Wales.
In response, Neath Port Talbot councillors have approved their own Rapid Rehousing Plan across the borough this month, which is part of a Wales-wide initiative aimed at making any homelessness, “rare, brief and unrepeated”.
A council spokesperson describing the plans said: “It is a housing led solution, but is focused around the needs of the individual – requiring a person centred approach. The ultimate objective is to offer housing that is safe, affordable, decent, and meets the needs of the individual in terms of location, proximity to family, services, access to transport and facilities such as shops and schools.
“It does not require people to be “tenancy ready” before they access accommodation. Instead they will be offered a bespoke package of assistance, tailored to the issues they are facing in maintaining a tenancy. In this way people access permanent accommodation, reducing the risk of repeated episodes of homelessness, and the trauma that can cause.
“It requires strong partnership working with housing associations, health and third sector providers in order to deliver a holistic approach to providing a home and close support. Welsh Government says in its Ending Homelessness Strategy that for rapid rehousing to be effective, all local authorities need to work to increase the availability and diversity of affordable housing options, whether directly owned council housing, housing associations, or well regulated, affordable private rental properties.
“Members of Neath Port Talbot Council’s social services, housing and community safety cabinet board have now approved the authority’s Rapid Rehousing Plan in order to comply with Welsh Government requirements and to improve the council’s response to homelessness, as well as supporting staff who are working in challenging circumstances.”
Neath Port Talbot Council’s deputy leader, Cllr Alun Llewelyn, said: “We are serious about tackling homelessness and aim to ensure all people presenting as homeless have both the accommodation and support they need to lead positive lives in our communities.
“Although Neath Port Talbot Council does not have its own council housing we will be working with housing associations and other providers.”
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