You only have to walk down St. Mary Street in Cardiff to recognise the worrying proliferation of rough sleepers on our streets. It is a national tragedy, that shows no signs of slowing down.
Cardiff lawyers, through the Cardiff & District Law Society and the Junior Lawyers Division want to do something about it and have formed “Cardiff Lawyers Care”. They have partnered with Law Works who arranged a series of training sessions delivered by Shelter Cymru to help law students, trainees and lawyers understand housing law in Wales and how it can be utilised to help people off the streets. The intention is that, through Cardiff Lawyers Care, lawyers will provide pro bono legal advice to the homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless.
The training was really insightful and I was eager to put what I had learnt into practice. So, when I was given an opportunity to shadow one of the Shelter Cymru outreach workers helping the homeless in Cardiff, I jumped at it.
The day was an eye opener. I met a number of rough sleepers living with addiction and mental health issues. It struck me how some had resigned themselves to their lot and that it wasn’t going to get any better for them; in short, they had lost hope.
The application process for gaining accommodation is lengthy and by no means straightforward, and it is difficult for people suffering with mental health and addiction issues to complete it. Shelter Cymru’s outreach team offer invaluable assistance with the application process to get people into the system and on their way to securing accommodation. However, there is no guarantee that accommodation will be available, even if someone is considered a ‘priority need’. The emergency accommodation made available may involve sharing a space with people who are suffering from addiction, which doesn’t help those trying to stay ‘clean’ and so may be rejected in favour of sleeping on the streets; away from temptation.
These are just some of the difficulties the homeless face in securing accommodation. It is clear that so much more needs to be done.
My experience in seeing the plight of the rough sleepers first hand and the great work that Shelter Cymru do has made me even more keen to get involved and do my bit to help. It is hoped that the pro bono Cardiff Lawyers Care advice clinic will launch soon to empower people to get off the streets and build a better life for themselves. I will certainly be volunteering!
Jonathan Williams – Watkins & Gunn