“Take a video of me and put it on YouTube” she said and launched into the Power Ballad “If I could see the Rhondda one more time”.
The mist on the mountain, the rivers running free
The old man on his way down from the mine
“I can sing Tom Jones as well you know”. As I took her picture one of her friends started shouting “Oy”. But she said “Oh don’t worry it’s ok, he’s doing a piece on homelessness or something”. She turned back to me. “I can rap as well – My name is Irene…”. I thanked her and she thanked me back as I left.
I’d decided to do a picture item to show the extent of homelessness or rough sleeping in Cardiff. These were all taken in the space of half an hour on my lunch hour. I asked each of homeless people before taking their picture. “Oh no, are you going to put me on Facebook?” I nodded hesitantly. “oh go on then”.
The truth is that I could have taken a lot more photos. This was just the tip of the iceberg. The estimated figures for the homeless in Cardiff is 4,547 and it is rising all the time. The council said they managed to house 200 last year.
The majority of people just pass them by. Many say they feel unhappy about giving money, saying things like “I can’t give to all of them. And if I give to one then what about the rest.” I’m not going to be critical – I understand this feeling and I’m far from perfect myself. And the council has also said that money doesn’t help and that people shouldn’t give them any. Other comments of a more skeptical nature include “I heard two of them doing a spice deal together” or “I saw one of them come on the train carrying a sleeping bag. How could he afford the train fare if he was homeless”. “They sit right next to the cash point to make you feel guilty”. Worse than this is the violence and theft that has occurred. Before Christmas a tent was put on fire.
On the other hand there are great examples of kindness. Elderly women are noticeable for their sympathy – giving money, buying them food and coffee, making suggestions of warm places they can go and generally stopping for a chat. A number of local restaurants and shops donate their surplus food and other businesses have donated hot water bottles. The group Food Not Bombs has a weekly stall outside the market which supplies hot meals. Also The Big Moose Cafe on Frederick St donates profits to helping the homeless and trains some to work there.
In the end this is a political problem. There have been eras where there have been next to no homelessness. This proves that it isn’t a necessary evil or the fault of the homeless people themselves.