In 2018, the amount of homeless people sleeping rough in Cardiff has reached an all time high garnering a mass amount of media attention in recent press. Despite all this, the figures of rough sleepers continue to rise across Wales, with an estimated 345 rough sleepers per night and only 233 emergency bed spaces available (2016-2017 data). This means that over 100 people are sleeping on the freezing cold streets of Wales with no safe place to go every single night. [Stats available via https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogue/Housing/Homelessness/Rough-Sleepers/roughsleepers-by-localauthority ]
As someone who has lived and worked in Cardiff for the past 3 years, I have witnessed first hand the severe increase in rough sleepers in the city and I have always been dumbfounded over what I could do to help; that’s where Lauren comes in.
Lauren Cowell is a twenty-three year old Social Care worker from Porth, Rhondda Cynon Taff, and I first came to know Lauren from working in retail together. I wanted to speak to Lauren about her involvement with supporting the homeless, as she’s a perfect example of how easy it is for a normal person to donate time and effort to help make people’s lives a little bit better.
Lauren’s relationship with supporting the homeless began a few years ago on a trip to London; after recently spending time working with the same issues on mission in Romania, she was shocked and saddened to find how close to home the problem of homelessness really was. Along with some of the other members of her Church Lauren decided she wanted to help in anyway possible, after a few failed trips to Cardiff they were soon put in touch with the organisation Rainbow of Hope.
Rainbow of Hope is a Cardiff based non-profit organisation that offers support to the homeless, refugees and asylum seekers, and they are responsible for the creation of the Paradise Run. At 8pm, every weeknight behind Marks and Spensers in Town on Charles Street, exists a community meeting hub for the homeless and other disadvantaged people, a place where to meet, have food and support as well as just general socialisation. I went along with Lauren one Monday this January to find out more about the organisation behind this and what we could to to help.
The Paradise Run is a ‘soup run,’ that is organised by Rainbow of Hope but is carried out by numerous different teams across South Wales. The night that I accompanied Lauren, her and her team were feeding over thirty people hot food, giving out clothing and just offering a nice warm smile. This experience really helped me break through my own personal internalised fear of talking to people living on the streets. Growing up, we’re all told to stay away from these people late at night due to social stigma that dictates them as dangerous criminals, something that I am now embarrassed about ever having thought. The truth is, most of these people have suffered through hardship that we couldn’t even begin to imagine. Many homeless people have fallen through the safety net of family and friends and ended up on the streets due to failing standards of social care, whether that be from leaving foster care, a victim of domestic abuse, post-prison rehabilitation into society and family losses. The list of reasons that lead to people sleeping rough or relying on organisations such as Rainbow of Hope is an on going representation of how the government is failing to provide adequate social care for the most vulnerable and it doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
That evening, the thing that shocked me the most was the amount of young people that were there seeking support. People my age and junior relying on support from charitable people due to a system that has failed them. By only helping out for one night, I could already see the positive impact the Paradise Run has on the community, and the stories that Lauren shared helped reinforce this. Lauren has built a relationship with many of the people who attend the soup run, and was delighted to hear the news that one familiar face had managed to pay off her arrears of debt that she fell into on the passing of her husband. The conversational support that Lauren and her team offers goes miles beyond just a full stomach for the evening, it helps remind this community that they too are normal people, a philosophy the Rainbow of Hope charity was founded on. As well as supporting the Rainbow of Hope charity with the Paradise Run, Lauren and her team also spend multiple evenings a month walking around town with hot water for warm drinks, sandwiches and sometimes hot food. Lauren explained to me that many rough sleepers avoid attending the soup run out of fear of being judged for their situation as well as embarrassment.
It is so important that now more than ever we become more active in the way we engage with these social issues. Over Christmas, Lauren was flooded with messages offering support through social media as she shared that she was collecting basic toiletries and gifts to support the organisation, showing how easy it is to get involved and provide help to the most vulnerable of our communities. Social media is a great platform to stay engaged on these issues, but sometimes the most important and basic thing you could do to change someone’s day is a smile.
The Coffee4Craig campaign is a Cardiff based charity that was started by a woman called Lindsay Taylor in memory of her brother Craig. Craig lived on the streets of Cardiff for many years after suffering with mental health issues, turning to alcohol and drugs to cope, which eventually led to his death. The philosophy behind Coffee4Craig is the idea that just if one person may have stopped and shared a coffee with Craig, it could have made his day that little bit better, and could have potentially saved his life.
Below I have added a few links to homeless charities and campaigns in South Wales if you would like to get involved. Thank you to Lauren Cowell for displaying the most humane qualities of love and support to other human beings and inspiring me to do the same, you’re a Hell Of A Girl x
Charities to support:
https://www.llamau.org.uk (A homeless charity for that supports women and children and also conducts outreach programs in schools teaching about healthy relationships to prevent domestic violence.)