Homelessness: A Pembrokeshire Crisis
I first met Amanda Evans, founder of Homeless Pembrokeshire, about two years ago. She told us then that she had been motivated to work with those who are homeless because she had been personally moved by the death of a homeless man she had encountered while living in Kent.
Liz Avery, who is with us now, became involved as a volunteer because Homeless Pembrokeshire was invaluable in helping someone close to her when they fell into difficulties.
She tells me that she feels the support agencies are overstretched.
“Apart from the difficulties of finding yourself in such circumstances,” she explained, “vulnerable people of all kinds are open to exploitation.”
What kind of exploitation?
Amanda says there are still unregistered landlords operating who are letting sub-standard properties to people who have no choice but to live in them.
She describes finding people in some of the most heartbreaking conditions. “It is worse now than I ever anticipated it could be two years ago,” she said sadly. “We visited one property on Christmas Eve – the poor tenant was living in desperate conditions without money for heating or food. They were expected to put £1 an hour into the meter for a tiny room with inadequate heating, no hot water, no cooking facilities or laundry facilities.
“There are so many people hidden from plain view. There are people having to sofa surf, tucked away in woodlands, living in vehicles, homeless hostels, B&Bs, squatting in empty properties, and so on. People are sometimes too frightened or too ashamed to ask for help or use food banks. Even when they do, these places have restricted opening times and are closed at weekends. People have to be referred to get a foodbank voucher. Having to travel to a referral agency and then to the foodbank itself can present many problems.”
How are people referred?
“People can be referred through their social worker, health visitor, DWP, CAB or other supporting organisations and charities. [All contact details can be found at the end of this article.] People will often talk to us rather than statutory bodies, for a range of reasons.
“We can also advise people about other resources that are available to them such as the Community Fridges. These are open to all and no voucher is required. The purpose of the Community Fridges is to prevent good food from going to landfill.”
Is this a local problem?
“We have had people contacting us from as far afield as Cardiff, Cardigan and Carmarthen. We look to see what services are available to them in their area and can put them in touch with each other.”
Why does she think people are struggling so much? I have heard people say that some people bring these crises on themselves.
“It’s easy for people to make those judgments,” Amanda says. “But it only takes a series of unfortunate events, the break-up of a marriage, the loss of a job, health issues… for things to start falling apart. It can happen to anyone and sometimes people are too ashamed to ask for help until their circumstances are desperate.”
So anyone could find themselves in crisis and in need of help?
Both women agree. “That’s our experience. People don’t realise how quickly things can fall apart.”
What help are you providing?
“We have emergency rough-sleeper packs situated throughout Pembrokeshire. We carry packs ourselves in case they are needed. They take the form of a 40-litre rucksack which contains much of what someone would need to survive if they have nothing at all. We can also arrange showers, haircuts, foot care and meals, and support people registering as homeless, obtaining a GP… DWP, CAB, Shelter, help in obtaining a bank account and even booking and attending an emergency dentist if needed.
“We have a baby bank with formula, nappies, wipes and most of the things parents need in crisis.
“We work very much with individuals, and nearly every case is different. We have in the past helped source white goods through various forms of funding that are available and furniture, occasionally source accommodation, work experience and even driving lessons for someone previously homeless with Fast Track Driving school, and much more.”
How do they manage all of this and how are they funded?
“It’s who we know,” says Amanda. “We are very much about networking. We are never afraid to ask for help. Last year we won the Tesco Bags of Help which has funded our emergency homeless rough-sleeper packs and training. A local business that wishes to remain anonymous also donated £1,000 for our emergency packs. Fast Track Drving School kindly donated a number of free driving lessons.
“Members of our Facebook group donate items needed from our Amazon wishlist. They also purchase Greggs, Morrison and Tesco gift cards that we can use to purchase food for clients, donate to the Pay It Forward venues which are listed in Files on the main FB page, and fundraising events, donate through the website, and even knit items that are needed. People have been so generous.”
In the past year the team has also reported on rural homelessness to the Welsh Assembly, taken part in research for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism regarding councils’ end of duty of care, lobbied the Welsh Government, and been on BBC Wales and local radio, all in addition to answering numerous calls for help from individuals and statutory bodies.
“Christmas was a blur, “ says Liz, “with people running out of electricity and food. We were all over the county with supplies of food, nappies and providing emergency credit for households without gas/electricity until the foodbanks and agencies reopened.
What does 2020 hold for Homeless Pembrokeshire?
“We aim to become a registered charity this year, and would like to launch a project to support more young disadvantaged people into work. We hope to source funding for them to have driving lessons with Fast Track Driving School. We would also like to seek funding for a works vehicle. At the moment we use our own vehicles to travel to the clients.
“We are always extremely grateful for all the donations we receive, without which we simply couldn’t do the work that we do.”
Homeless Pembrokeshire can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook Group Homeless Pembrokeshire, or www,amandashomelesspembrokeshire.co.uk