‘I’ve gone through ev­ery­thing you can name, apart from be­ing mur­dered’

Cynon Valley - - YOUR NEWS - TOM HOUGHTON tom.houghton@waleson­line.co.uk

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

Gabrielle Parry

Paula Wil­liams

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