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Council defends rough sleeper policy after park death

CARDIFF Council has responded to criticism of its homelessness strategy after the death of a 32-year-old woman in a city centre park last weekend.

South Wales Police confirmed yesterday that a 32-year-old woman died in Alexandra Park on Saturday (Nov 25). The death was described as “sudden and non-suspicious.”

In the wake of the news, several members of homeless volunteer groups in Cardiff criticised the council’s policy on rough sleepers.

“There are plenty of empty buildings and churches in Cardiff which could be used for housing, and the council should look into funding these avenues to make sure that no more lives are lost in tragic circumstances like this,” said local charity Food Not Bombs Cardiff, who posted on Facebook that the woman had been living in a tent in the park.

Very sad to hear that a homeless woman has died in a tent in Cardiff :(Open the churches and other buildings, show some humanity!RIP

Posted by Food Not Bombs Cardiff / Bwyd Nid Bomiau Caerdydd on Monday, 27 November 2017

Several members of volunteer group Hope for the Homeless also expressed anger at the council’s attitude to rough sleepers, with one member Debbie Witts saying: “The council should be ashamed of themselves. What do you expect will happen when human beings are shivering and starving?”

Some raised concerns at strategies such as Operation Purple Ash, which according to reports this month sees South Wales Police working alongside Cardiff Council to tackle drinking, begging and anti-social behaviour in the city centre.

“Complaints from visitors, residents and businesses around the number of people begging and undertaking alcohol related anti-social behaviour within the city centre have increased in recent months,” said Chief Superintendent Belinda Davies, Divisional Commander for Cardiff, in early November.

“Such behaviour can prove intimidating, unpleasant and unwelcoming to those visiting or working in the area.”

However, volunteers were concerned that moving rough sleepers out of the city centre could make them less able to access food and help.

Today the council expressed sympathy for the dead woman’s family and responded to questions around their current rough sleeper strategies.

“This is a tragic loss of life and our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time,” said Councillor Lynda Thorne, Cabinet Member for Communities and Housing.

“I know that people will ask if we are doing enough to help the homeless and, in the face of a tragic death, we must always ask ourselves how this was allowed to happen. But I want people to know there is no need to sleep outside at night and if people in need engage with us we will do everything we can to help them.”

Coun Thorne drew attention to the council’s Outreach service, which works seven days a week to support people sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough – and added that the authority also works with charities such as Huggard, Salvation Army, The Wallich and YMCA Cardiff to provide hostels, a day centre and a night bus for those who are struggling.

“There is no need for anyone to have to sleep out,” she said.

“However, we can’t deny that some individuals who sleep rough often have enormously complex issues and in some circumstances choose not to access our accommodation. In these circumstances, our Outreach team works directly with them on a daily basis.”

According to the council 16 rough sleepers were helped into accommodation in this way last month, and a total of 119 rough sleepers have been housed since April.

Coun Thorne added: “The Council has also recently agreed funding for a number of innovative housing projects to help address rough sleeping in the city which will commence shortly.

“We are working towards ending rough sleeping in Cardiff, but this news is deeply saddening for everyone who works in the sector and beyond.”

More information on Cardiff Council services and how to help someone sleeping rough in the city is available on the Council’s Homeless or at risk pages.

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