THE Welsh Government’s new £100-million homelessness plan is a “golden opportunity to end homelessness in the country”, which must not be squandered, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, said on Monday.
The Archbishop, who chairs the steering group of Housing Justice Cymru, is Bishop of Swansea & Brecon — a diocese hit by the decline in heavy industry and experiencing some of the highest increases in households applying for homelessness assistance. The number is highest in Cardiff, where the figure of 5598 households is estimated to represent 36 out of every 1000 households living in the city.
The new policy is intended to ensure that everyone in Wales who needs a home has a safe place to live and a clear path into long-term stable housing. A Welsh-government report for April 2019 to March 2020 concluded that local authorities in Wales tended towards a crisis response to homelessness.
“The long-lasting economic impact of the current pandemic is putting more people at risk of experiencing homelessness,” the report said. “Given the detrimental long-term effects of homelessness on people’s lives, but also on public spending, it is paramount that we focus more effort on preventing homelessness occurring in the first place.”
ST MARY’S, SWANSEABreakfast at St Mary’s, Swansea
Covid restrictions forced the closure last year of winter night shelters run by Housing Justice Cymru, in partnership with churches and community centres. In response, the Welsh government set up new emergency accommodation for anyone in need. Local authorities can now get funding to create better accommodation and more affordable homes, with a focus on preventative support services and support for tenants with rent arrears.
Archbishop Davies said: “It is only by working with existing services and local authorities that we can make the most out of this unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity before us and progress to genuinely ending homelessness in Wales. This may mean moving away from night shelters and soup kitchens, and instead directing people to their local authority, who can house and support them.”
The Rector of Central Swansea, Canon Ian Rees, described the plan as “really good and ambitious. It’s something that desperately needs to be addressed.” His church, St Mary’s, set up a breakfast club for homeless people in 2019, which served about 30 people. Since the pandemic, the church has joined other city churches in providing a takeaway brunch service for anyone in need. It serves between 70 and 90 meals every day of the week.
The council had done a fairly good job in housing people, but there was still a lack of food provision, and those in hostel accommodation were often left to provide for themselves, Canon Rees said on Tuesday. “The new policy won’t make the problem go away by itself. We will still have the problem of those who can’t hold down accommodation and find it difficult to adapt to formalised housing.
“But, if we can step along the road a little bit with it, hopefully it will take some of the people out of that homelessness pattern, and give us the opportunity to give care to the longer-term ones who are more difficult to sort out. We can work more closely with them, and start to make a difference there.”