IT’S hard to ignore the Christmas spirit in Cardiff city centre. Shops are advertising their winter sales in the windows, the Christmas markets are scattered across Working Street and there is even the faint sound of Jingle Bells echoing from a nearby shop.
But while we are all buying our Christmas presents and planning how we will spend the holidays with our loved ones there are around 87 street sleepers in the city and, for some of them, Christmas can be the worst time of the year.
This year, Coffee for Craig, a Cardiff-based charity run by volunteers, will be providing the homeless with Christmas dinners and gifts.
Sian, Coffee for Craig’s project manager, said: “We run rain or shine and I’ve been feeding Cardiff for three years. The homeless are ignored until winter comes and people start to think of them in the cold.”
Speaking to Sian made me realise how passionate she and many others across the city are about helping the homeless and giving them a sense of normality and dignity.
“One year I made 42 Christmas dinners for the run, but it almost killed me as I’m disabled,” she said.
But speaking to homeless people on the streets gave me a different, depressing and darker insight into what it is like to live on the streets.
John, 36, who wishes to not use his full name, has been sleeping on the streets of Cardiff since February when he was released from prison. It is his first Christmas being homeless and I was interested to find out what he would be doing on Christmas Day.
“I might go to one of the churches with some of my friends because I’ve heard they open up to two weeks before, but I won’t be going to a Christmas meal at any of the shelters,” he said.
John is a recovering alcoholic and drinking is what led to him being sent to prison and, ultimately, becoming homeless. His main concern about being on the streets is the temptation to drink again, and he fears that if he goes to a shelter for Christmas he will be encouraged by others.
It is not only homeless shelters and food kitchens that provide accommodation and hot meals over the winter.
Rhiwbina Baptist Church night shelter will be open to the homeless from 8pm to 8am every night from December 19 until March 31.
Neil, from RBC, said: “We are expecting to find our doors bursting again this winter.”
The Homeless Night Shelter was set up nine years ago by Pastor Dave Prichard at the Beacon Centre in St Mellons after he conducted the funeral of a homeless man who died of hypothermia on the streets of Cardiff – something he believes should not happen in today’s society.
This Christmas, Dave will be picking up homeless people and driving them to the centre where they can watch films, eat mince pies, enjoy tea and cake. The centre provides three-course hot meals cooked by professional chefs who give up their Christmas Day. Gifts are also donated for guests at the night shelter.
Neil said one of the biggest struggles is to find enough churches to provide this support on Christmas Day as each venue is limited to just 14 people.
He said: “Over the nine years that I have been involved in volunteering with these people, more and more of society are becoming aware of and having more sympathy towards them.”
Layton is only 27 and he too will be spending his first Christmas on the streets this year after being released from prison in May.
As I spoke to him an elderly woman came up to him and gave him two Greggs’ pasties and a coffee. She buys him lunch every day and this simple gesture is the highlight of Layton’s day.
“Yeah, she brings me a pasty every day. It really makes a difference and is a nice change to the people who shout abuse at me,” he said.
He too would rather spend Christmas Day on the streets than at a shelter, church or an event hosted for the homeless.
“There’s no chance I would go going back to a shelter, even for a day. I’d rather spend it sat here,” he said.
“Christmas isn’t a special day for me,” he added while he began to sip on his coffee.