As part of a Cardiffian special on homelessness WILL KIRBY takes a look at the work being done at the Tavs Centre in Roath
When we got past Christmas and had only had a handful of frosty mornings, most of us thought we’d escaped the grim, cold and wet conditions we’ve come to expect from a British winter.
Unfortunately, January proved us wrong.
Freezing temperatures have gripped the UK for most of 2016 and snow has blanketed large areas of the country, making flooding and weather damage a huge feature of the new year.
Fortunately, most of us have a nice warm home we can go back to after braving the conditions outside – somewhere we can go back to, stick the kettle on, and warm up in front of the radiator.
But imagine if you didn’t.
Homelessness is an issue that affects thousands of people across the country, particularly at this time of year. Unable to escape the harsh weather conditions and forced to sleep under the stars, many homeless and vulnerable people are at risk of serious illnesses as they are forced to contend with the elements without any kind of long-term shelter or security.
Here in Cardiff, about 1,341 people are in temporary accommodation and council statistics indicate there are only about 34 rough sleepers in the city, a figure some homeless charities think may be an underestimate.
Luckily, there are some kind Cardiffians willing to help.
From December to March, the Cardiff Christian Night Shelter group runs a project to keep homeless people from sleeping on the streets.
Vulnerable people can turn up, enjoy a hot meal, and stay overnight in a number of community buildings and churches, many of which also provide other services including clothes banks and community activities like singing and bread-making, all of which is free.
The system runs so that one site stays open for each night of the week to provide shelter from the cold weather. Many of the shelters involved in the scheme open on other nights to provide food too.
There’s nothing to determine who comes in, and the voluntary staff are more than willing to chat and provide food for whoever wants it.
Elwyn Davies, a Cardiff teacher who volunteers in the Tavs Centre in Roath, explained why he helps out.
“In this weather, some of them just want to sleep. Lots of these guys have got places, but if money’s tight then food’s not easy to come by so we just provide a little extra help.”
“I’ve come across four former pupils in my time here, people who I taught when they were kids and it’s sad to see them in here, but we always do what we can to lend a hand.”
Phil, another volunteer who chose not to reveal his full name, said: “This place is really unique. I was chatting to a guy who’s been in and out of prison for years and he was telling me that he used to break into places, but he never stole anything.
“People would ask him ‘why aren’t you taking anything’ but his answer was always the same. He’d say that he used to sit in the chairs and just look around the room, looking at all the family photos and just imagine that they were his family.
“That’s what this place is. It’s a family.”
Many volunteers are members of local churches and have been helping at centres across the city for years, ensuring there are provisions for homeless people during winter.
Phil said: “I managed to buy a projector and some speakers and a massive screen, so my goal is to get it all set up to show the Six Nations here in a few weeks.”
The Tavs Centre in Roath opens on Sunday and Monday evenings to provide a free hot meal and there is also a community choir that practices and performs there. About 40 people turn up each night for food and they can take three items of clothing per week from the donations the churches receive. Board games are provided for people to use.
On Wednesdays the centre opens overnight to provide shelter and there are often 10-15 people who stay.
Money often comes from church collections and fundraising initiatives but further generosity from the people of Cardiff would be greatly appreciated.
How you can help?
“If you’ve got the skills yourself or you know a hairdresser or a chiropodist, come along and see what we do for yourselves,” said Phil.
“We would love someone who could help with CVs or debt management, because waiting lists for debt management companies in Cardiff can be over six months long.”
Gareth, who has used the Cardiff centres on-and-off for around 10 years, said: “These places are great for people who are a bit down on their luck.
“I didn’t know about these places for ages when I was sleeping rough so if people see someone out on the street looking a bit cold and hungry, they need to let them know about places like these.
“I’ve got an interview this week so I’ve picked up a few shirts to wear for it and had a hot meal, all for nothing. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Anyone is welcome to come along and help out. “What else are you going to do on a Monday night? Watch Corrie?” said Phil.
“I’ve never come away from here and thought it was a waste of time. People are so grateful and you make some amazing friends in here – I really can’t see why I’d ever stop coming to be honest.”
Cardiff homeless support centres:
Monday – Grangetown Baptist Church, Clive St
Tuesday – Salem Chapel, Market Road, Canton
Wednesday – Tavs Centre, Tavistock St, Off City Rd
Thursday – Calvary Baptist Church, Cowbridge Rd East
Friday – St Peters Youth Hall – Bedford St, Off City Rd
Saturday – City Temple, Cowbridge Rd East
Sunday – 7th Day Adventists, Cowbridge Rd East
Donations can be made to:
Meet Jesus Here Ministries – Mark donation “Homeless”
Account Number: 00203832
Sort Code: 30-92-07