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Homelessness: Gap between perception and reality

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ALMOST half of online adults aged 18+ in Wales (46 per cent) say they always, or almost always do nothing when they see someone in the street who is Homelessnesshomeless, compared to 54 per cent across the UK. More than a quarter of people in Wales say the main cause of homelessness is alcohol or drug addiction (30 per cent), followed by debt (20 per cent), according to new research commissioned by The Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army also carried out a survey of more than 300 residents of its centres (Lifehouses) for people experiencing homelessness, including Swan Lodge in Sunderland, and reveals a worrying gap between the reality of what it’s like to be homeless and the perception of the general public.

The Church and charity is warning that without greater education this gap will widen, making it harder for people who are experiencing homelessness to get their lives back on track which could risk increasing the cost to society in the future.

Major Howard Russell, Deputy Territorial Director of Homelessness Services at The Salvation Army, said: “At The Salvation Army we are working to end the cycle of homelessness and one of the key hurdles we face is around people’s attitudes as our research has revealed the general public believe alcohol and drugs are the root cause of homelessness when, in our experience, this isn’t the case. We believe educating the public on the reality of what causes homelessness is the way to overcome this.”

The Church and charity’s survey of its Lifehouses, reveals the main cause of homelessness is relationship breakdown (43 per cent), followed by a combination of issues (16 per cent), physical or mental health problems (13 per cent), job loss (11 per cent), then addiction (10 per cent), and finally debt (6 per cent).

Major Russell said: “While the general public appear to be aware that there are a variety of causes of homelessness, more than a quarter of people incorrectly perceive drug and alcohol addiction to be the main cause.

“Yes, alcohol and drugs may be a problem for many people experiencing homeless, this often comes as a result of homelessness and, as our survey of our Lifehouse residents shows, it is rarely the cause. Instead, it is relationship breakdown, something that can happen to anyone at any time.”

While revealing that 73 per cent of those in Wales say that at least some of the time they do nothing when they see someone who is experiencing homelessness, 41 per cent say they give cash at least sometimes, 26 per cent sometimes purchased something to eat or drink and 15 per cent say that they at least sometimes find out where the nearest homelessness service is and pass on the details to the person who was sleeping rough.

Major Russell continued: “We find it quite shocking that such a large proportion of the public polled would simply walk on by, doing nothing for a person sleeping rough.

“It isn’t an issue that can be ignored and we believe awareness needs to be raised. Our extensive experience has shown us that homelessness can affect anyone, and so it is surprising that the Ipsos MORI poll has revealed 36 per cent of people in Wales don’t think that they, or someone close to them could ever experience homelessness. At our Lifehouses you’ll find many people who previously worked in a range of professions and skilled jobs.”

The Church and charity’s survey of Lifehouses reported that 89 per cent of residents agreed that if there was one thing they wished they’d known before they experienced homelessness it was that it can happen to anyone.

The Salvation Army believe the Ipsos MORI research reveals a lack of understanding around who can be affected by homelessness as 21 per of people say it is not at all likely that someone with a job that requires a professional qualification could ever become homeless.

Interestingly the survey of Salvation Army Lifehouse residents shows that 72 per cent worked before they experienced homelessness. In addition, 65 per cent reported that employers treat them differently when they find out they’re homeless. For 70 per cent people in general treat them differently because they are experiencing homelessness.

Damon Short is a resident at Ty Gobaith Lifehouse in Cardiff. He lived on the streets for over 30 years after being in care, approved schools, hostels and jail.

He was approached by an outreach worker of the Bridge Programme at The Salvation Army and slowly began to rebuild his life. He is now a volunteer on the church and charity’s Bus Project for rough sleepers and credits The Salvation Army with helping turn his life around.

He said: “My early experiences in life made me institutionalised but I liked being on the streets because I was meeting new people and there was always something new to do etc. So my life (existence) was centred on drink and drugs resulting in me having no food – this was my situation for a long, long time.

“My Mother moved to Cardiff and I started to help her as she was alcohol and hash dependant. It made things easier for me to see her but to be honest this also made things harder for me as my health was getting worse daily.

“During one of my admissions to hospital for my drinking I was approached by the outreach worker of the Bridge Programme at The Salvation Army. A place was made available and even though I was unsure about what it was or what I could do there I accepted it. During the early days of being there a few of my friends passed away and I found the programme hard to say the least. I eventually got my detox date in the local hospital – this really scared me and I wondered what would be left in life or how I would feel without drink or drugs in my life.

“I completed my detox – I was chuffed, I’d actually done it. It felt all new and weird at first, I wasn’t too sure if I liked it or not. After a few weeks my Mother had become more and more withdrawn, her moods had changed which sadly resulted in her taking her own life. I was devastated! I attended the cremation but didn’t want to attend the wake as I knew it could start me back drinking and if I started drinking over this sadness I wouldn’t come out the other side whole.

“This actually made me stronger and gave me such determination to stay dry and clean. Initially I thought the Bridge Programme wasn’t what I wanted – how wrong was I! After a little time I started with help to deal with my feelings and thoughts, it was then that I started to live rather than exist!

The daily group sessions became exciting and I engaged fully in them, this boosted my confidence and self belief. I started to volunteer at a Peer Mentoring Group after passing the appropriate courses arranged by the Skills department. My courses have given me options to eventually achieve a NVQ via OCNs and Learn Direct.

“Recently I have regained contact with my children after seven years which is brilliant. I also volunteer on The Salvation Army’s Outreach Bus Project with the rough sleepers of Cardiff – I enjoy this immensely as I relate fully. It will only be a matter of time before I also start to assist at the local needle exchange project.

“All these placements and meetings are so worthwhile as now I’ve a purpose to get up in the mornings; my confidence and independence is such that I can’t wait for my own property to become available.

I would never have thought that I would ever be where I am today; it just proves how far I’ve come with the help and assistance of everyone who has invested their time and effort into my recovery. I am the man I am today because people believed in me and I started to believe in myself – I am now a happy, excited and purposeful person.”

The survey of Lifehouse residents reveals 68 per cent feel that people see their homelessness rather than them as a person.

The Ipsos MORI survey of online adults in the UK goes further in revealing the challenges faced by people once they have secured somewhere permanent to live and got their lives back on track, as 58 per cent agree that employers are less likely to give jobs to people who have previously experienced homelessness.

Major Russell concluded: “The MORI poll result appears to suggest that people believe once you’ve experienced homelessness employers will think twice about giving you a job. At The Salvation Army we never give up on anyone as we believe in helping individuals to reach their full potential, whatever that may be, and we would like to encourage people to put themselves in the shoes of a someone experiencing homelessness, as it is something that can happen to anyone, it’s not just alcoholics and drug addicts.”

The Salvation Army is an expert in running services for people experiencing homelessness and understands that a tailored and personal approach is needed when providing support. The Church and charity is keen to demonstrate that it’s not a simple case of providing accommodation as it employs a skilled workforce who are there at every step of the way to walk alongside residents and equip them with the skills and support they need to reach their full potential, whether that be employment, re-connecting with family or beating an addiction.

In total The Salvation Army have more than 80 homelessness services around the UK and the Republic of Ireland. It runs a number of courses and activities at all it’s Lifehouses which range from employment skills and cookery classes to how to keep their tenancy when they get somewhere to live, an important part of breaking the cycle of homelessness.

According to The Salvation Army’s survey, 76 per cent of residents take part in at least one activity on offer and 32 per cent do all the courses available to them, which the Church and charity believe shows how keen residents are to get their lives on track, if society will allow them the opportunity.

This year The Salvation Army is celebrating 150 years of transforming lives and it is still at the heart of every community today, supporting those in need.

If a member of the public sees someone rough sleeping The Salvation Army would like to suggest the public visit their local council’s website for 24 hour assistance on what they can do to help someone who is sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness.

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Community

Wales’s oldest person, Mary Keir, celebrates 112th birthday

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MARY KEIR, recorded as Wales’s oldest person has celebrated her 112th birthday at Awel Tywi Residential Home in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire where she has lived for the last 12 years.

Surrounded by friends and family, Mary celebrated with a lunch of roast dinner followed by sherry trifle and then a buffet in the evening.

Pupils from Ysgol Ffairfach also visited to celebrate with Mary as well as Dinefwr Male Voice Choir who entertained Mary and all the residents at Awel Tywi with an array of songs.

Mary is still actively involved in life at Awel Tywi, taking part in activities, entertainment and meetings as well as helping other residents. She also remains a keen lover of music, in particular the piano which has been a lifelong passion.

A former ward sister and district nurse who lived in Llansteffan independently just before her 100th birthday, Mary then became a resident at Carmarthenshire County Council’s Awel Tywi Residential Home.

Cllr Jane Tremlett, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Services said: “Happy 112th Birthday wishes to Mary.  My thanks also to our fantastic team of carers at Awel Tywi for delivering excellent care to Mary as well as all of the home’s residents”.

Her son Robert Keir and daughter-in law Sian Keir celebrated her birthday with her and said: “Mary, our mother and mother-in-law still has a great will and determination. She has received fantastic care at Awel Tywi and we really appreciate everything that the amazing staff do for her every day”.

The year Mary was born, 1912, was famous for a number of historical moments including:

  1. Sinking of the Titanic: On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic, a British passenger liner, sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after hitting an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Over 1,500 of the approximately 2,224 passengers and crew on board died, making it one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history.
  2. Founding of the Republic of China: Following the Xinhai Revolution, which overthrew the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China, the Republic of China was founded on January 1, 1912. Sun Yat-sen was the first provisional president, marking the end of over two thousand years of imperial rule in China.
  3. South Pole Expeditions: In 1912, the race to the South Pole concluded as Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition reached the pole on December 14, 1911, followed by Robert Falcon Scott’s British team on January 17, 1912. Scott and his companions died on their return journey.
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Community

Working together to protect our countryside and our country

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OPERATION Dawns Glaw, a multi-agency taskforce of specialist from key agencies across Wales has reformed to reduce, and where possible eliminate the impact of grass fires across Wales.

The task force, which was initially established in 2016 to tackle incidents of deliberately set grass fires across Wales, will also be turning its attention to the increase in accidental fires, often caused as a result of our own careless behaviour when out enjoying the countryside. 

In 2023 fire services across Wales attended 1,880 grassfire incidents – this was a decrease of 45% on the previous year with deliberate grass fires decreasing by 1,059 (45%) to 1,301. We want to continue in this direction.

Every year fire is responsible for the destruction of thousands of hectares of countryside, open space, and wildlife habitats.  We want to work with our communities to build a healthier and resilient countryside and to develop a more biodiverse countryside for the future. Working with our communities and sharing our knowledge provides us a better understanding on what we can do limit the damage that accidental fires cause to our environment.

Peter Greenslade, Corporate Head of Prevention and Protection for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, and Chair of Operation Dawns Glaw, said: “We launch our campaign again this year on St David’s Day, with a patriotic plea that we all continue to work together to build a healthier and more resilient Welsh landscape, by developing a more biodiverse countryside for our future. We want to continue to protect our landscapes, green grassland, and countryside that we are all so fortunate to have on our doorstep.

“We want to work with our communities, farmers, and landowners to share our knowledge and understanding of the effect that both deliberate and accidental fires have on our communities.  We understand that controlled burns can have a positive effect on the environment, creating biodiversity and a sustainable eco system and we are available for free advice on how do to this safely.

“I would also like to take the opportunity to reinforce our messages that while accidents can happen, there are some within our communities who are deliberately setting fire to our countryside – not only is this a crime, for which they will be prosecuted, but it also places unnecessary pressure on front line services and puts our communities in harm’s way. I would encourage anyone with information relating to such crimes to call 101, or to report anonymously to CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111”. 

The Operation is also continuing its work with farmers and landowners across Wales, reminding them that while they may burn heather, grass, bracken and gorse up until the 15 March (up to 31 March in Upland areas), they must have a Burn Plan in place to ensure they are burning safely. It is against the law to burn outside of the burning season and can result in penalties of up to £1000.

Find out more about #DawnsGlaw 2024 via Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service’s website www.mawwfire.gov.uk/DawnsGlaw, where you can also access some simple safety tips and download the campaign’s safety messages for use on your own social media channels. Together we held stop grass fires and protect our countryside and our country.

Remember – If are out enjoying the countryside and you do come across any suspicious activity, please call CrimeStoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111, or ring 101. In an emergency, always call 999.

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Lonely Planet says Heart of Wales line ‘one of best rail journeys in Europe’

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WORLD famous travel guide Lonely Planet has named the Heart of Wales railway line as one of the best rail journeys in Europe.

Described as ‘a spectrum of scenery’ that alternates ‘from the sand-edged estuaries of South Wales’ to ‘one of England’s prettiest medieval cities’, the line has been ranked amongst the top ten train rides in Europe for 2024.

Others on the prestigious list include the Le Petit Train Juane in the French Pyrenees, The Berina Express in Switzerland and The Brenner Railway passing through Germany, Austria and Italy.

Running between Swansea and Shrewsbury, a full trip on the line takes 4 hours and covers nearly 200km, passing through villages such as Llandeilo and Llandovery within the south and Craven Arms and Church Stretton further north.

Marie Daly, Chief Customer and Culture Officer at Transport for Wales said: “The Heart of Wales line is a beautiful rural railway that is popular with day trippers and walkers, it also provides vital links for the rural communities in Mid Wales and the Borders.

“It’s great to be recognised internationally by Lonely Planet and I’d encourage visitors to take a ride and enjoy the experience of dramatic mountains, forests, wild rivers and the quaint towns and villages of Shropshire, Powys, Carmarthenshire and Swansea.”    

“At TfW we’re on a journey to improve public transport and also to encourage people to choose sustainable travel.  For those visiting and interested, please visit www.walesonrails.co.uk to see the many wonderful places and attractions within Wales and how they can be accessed using public transport.”

Owen Griffkin, Heart of Wales Community Rail Partnership Officer said: “It was wonderful to see the Heart of Wales Line included as one of the top ten rail journeys in Europe. We are very proud of the railway and to see it gaining global recognition as one of the most scenic routes in Europe is something we can celebrate.

“Articles like this will drive more tourism to the area and provide economic benefits to communities all along the line, and we will be looking to capitalise on this in our next Community Rail Partnership activity plan.”

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