‘I’ve gone through everything you can name, apart from being murdered’
PEOPLE who have lived with homelessness have revealed the grim reality of what it’s like to sleep rough in the Valleys.
From not knowing when the next meal will come to a constant fear of violence and a horrendous lack of sleep, five people being helped by homeless charity Adref have revealed their daily struggle and hardship in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
In contrast to their counterparts in big cities, the charity says homelessness in the Valleys is more of a “hidden problem”.
Officials said because there are fewer visible people sleeping rough it is often difficult to know where to go for help and there are fewer people to confide in but the everyday dangers are still there.
We spoke to some of the service users at the Pontypridd centre in Mill Street where 12 beds are saved for those sleeping rough while tireless staff work to help them move onto their next step and off the streets.
This is what those service users had to say.
Gabrielle Parry grew up in Wattstown before finding herself on the streets at the age of just 15, sleeping rough for more than five years until she turned 21.
Gabrielle, 38, said she has been in prison 34 times, serving time for a total of 10 years for offences including theft.
She said: “When I was younger I didn’t care about being on the streets as I was adventurous but as I got older it got harder.
“It’s not about comfort – it’s just about getting through the cold nights. When you’ve got someone else you cwtch up with them to stay warm that helps a little but you can’t sleep tidy.
“You have got to keep one eye open and keep your belongings safe because that’s all you own.
“Then in the morning and all day long you walk around like a zombie because you haven’t had any sleep.”
Gabrielle, a mother of four, said she shoplifted, which meant being in and out of jail for most of her life.
She explained: “I was a vindictive shoplifter. I decided to stop. Living homeless meant I was just walking around the outskirts of town – it’s hard.
“I didn’t want to be doing it – I wanted to change my life.”
Gabrielle arrived at Adref in November and said: “This place is good. I’m glad to be here.
“I didn’t want to spend another winter on the streets. Especially at my age it’s hard work and you think ‘how much longer can you survive?’
“A lot of bad things do happen to you on the streets. I have gone through everything you can name apart from being murdered. I don’t want to go into every detail because I’d be here forever.”
She has found herself homeless again in recent years but has hope for the future.
“Hopefully I will have my own place again – I need it.
“I got out of jail on Halloween but it’s so easy to suddenly find yourself homeless. It could turn at the blink of an eye for anyone.
“And it’s bad out there, especially for women.
“Things happen to women. It’s frightening but you have just got to put it behind you and carry on.”
Paula Williams, 32, grew up in Church Village.
She said: “I had a place in the Graig, Pontypridd, but I ended up going to jail. I came out a few months ago and I ended up homeless.”
So what was life like on the streets?
“It was graft,” Paula explained. “You have to work every day to get money and very often you just end up back in jail. I’ve been in jail about 12 times. You can’t claim your benefits because you don’t have an address.
“Nine times out of 10 people are going back to jail because that’s a safe environment for them, except for a place back here.”
Paula went to Rhondda Cynon Taf council for help and was soon put in touch with the hostel.
She said: “Since I have been here they have been brilliant – they give you food, do washing and general things like that to help you back on your feet.
“Without this place I would have ended up back in jail.”
Liam Ayling, 31, had been living with his ex-partner and children in Gilfach Goch before he became homeless.
He spent a week on the streets and said: “At the time it wasn’t cold and wintery like it is now – it was the middle of summer.
“But it was hard. I had anxiety and depression which didn’t help.”
Dad-of-five Liam, who is originally from Manchester, added: “I came to Mill Street in August.
“It’s brilliant here – they helped me open a bank account and get my life on track and help from looking for properties to getting me doctor appointments.
“I was lucky really – it’s high demand to get in here. I was lucky to get a place within a week.
“I’m very grateful to this place. The staff are brilliant and if they can help you they will help you. They are always so welcoming and very polite.”
Another service user, a 35-year-old man from Cardiff who wished to remain anonymous, described how he became homeless after losing his mother last year.
He said: “Being a single man I wasn’t priority and what happened put me in a position where I needed some help for the first time in my life.
“I have never been in a situation like this. I worked since I was 15 but never had to use my money to put a roof over my head.”
He was recommended to contact the centre, is hoping to get back to college and rebuild his life, and is soon to move into his own property in the area.
He said: “A lot of people ask: ‘Why the Valleys?’ I think up here it’s so communal.
“Everyone knows each other and everyone’s so polite, which is so helpful when you are in a situation like this. People have got time for each other.
“I’ve got to say the help here at the centre is out of this world. The staff here have gone all out to help me.
“They communicated with me even when I wasn’t in here – these guys will do anything to help you.
“I have massive respect for the staff. I don’t think they get enough credit.”
A fifth service user we spoke to was a 42-yearold woman from the Rhondda.
She said she arrived at the centre after suffering from domestic abuse, arriving straight from hospital while looking for properties.
“I have spent time on the streets,” she said.
“It was horrendous – you are cold, tired and hungry. You couldn’t keep yourself clean.
“You get scared. It’s terrible – I wouldn’t wish it on my worse enemy.”
She arrived at the centre earlier this year and said: “It was the best thing I have ever done.
“They addressed all my problems under one umbrella. Usually you have got to go to different places for everything.”
She said the centre provided “great support”, adding: “People don’t