Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent in the gleaming stores of Cardiff city centre during December.
Yet outside them, enduring unforgiving rain and cold, men and women shelter in thin plastic tents with grubby blankets for warmth.
Figures show growing numbers of people are sleeping rough in the city or are affected by homelessness in other ways.
As the shops ready themselves for opening at just before 9am, their racks tidied and window displays sparkling, Louis Roberts huddles beneath several layers of clothes including two jackets.
The 23-year-old has been homeless since after leaving prison. He was sleeping rough until he found a place in a night shelter two months ago.
When the night shelter kicks out every day at 8am, he whiles away the hours until it reopens at 8pm on the streets.
Only a few metres away from him on the Hayes, two rough sleepers are lying on the floor in sleeping bags.
Despite this, Louis seems upbeat.
He said: “You have to help yourself. The public help has been good.
“You have to be positive. This place can eat you, it can consume you. You get addicted to drugs and kill yourself.”
His friend Troy – who is homeless- turns up on a bike. Troy says he was in jail for three months for breaching a community order, and has recently been evicted from accommodation.
He is wearing soaking wet socks and trainers and says he is cold.
Troy said: “You just survive day by day. If it was not for members of the public you wouldn’t survive.
“People have been kind. I’m a Cardiff boy.
“I will get a job after Christmas hopefully.”
Cardiff council says there is a surplus of emergency accommodation available every night and there is “no need for anyone to sleep outside”.
Yet there are many who say it is not that simple.
In nearby Queen Street just before 10am, Christina Smallbone is begging for money and trying to keep warm in a parka jacket beside her soggy-looking tent.
“The Outreach Team have already been out this morning,” she said.
“They will come out in a van and give you teas, coffees and breakfast. They’re really helpful.”
Christina, 33, says life on the streets of Cardiff has been hard.
She said: “I’m struggling every day to make money for hot chocolates, food, dry clothes. Some days I don’t make anything. Some times it’s £10, or £20. It depends.
“We don’t get help from the public. We’re just getting abused.
“It’s expensive living the homeless life. I have to take some sort of drugs to get through the situation.”
For Christina, that drug is Spice.
“The effects are very intoxicating,” she said. “You get a sleepy feeling. You have a happy feeling off it. We’re sat here freezing cold with nothing to do.”
Christina says she has a son in Aberdare, and family across Cardiff.
Spending an hour with Cardiff council’s Outreach Team gives you a just a glimpse of how much of an issue rough sleeping is in the city.
The team aims to cover all areas of the city, seven days a week, where people are sleeping rough – offering them advice and support, and hopefully a way off the streets.
It is just after 2pm on Friday December 14 and the first person the Outreach Team speaks to on Queen Street is a woman huddled in a blanket clutching a coffee cup. The team says she has been homeless on-and-off for around two-and-a-half years.
As hundreds of people walk past, right opposite her a young man begs for money. He can’t be older than his early 20s – he’s in a blanket puffing a cigarette, and has what looks like a stuffed toy with him.
The team are in the process of getting the woman back onto methadone to help with her heroin addiction.
Spice also remains a real problem on Cardiff’s streets, according to Lee Monk, who has been an outreach officer for three-and-a-half years.
But the reasons why people end up – and stay – on the streets are far more complex than just substance misuse. These people are offering struggling with issues such as childhood trauma, family issues and mental health conditions.
Lee said: “We put them into accommodation but they don’t stay because they have complex issues.
“We’re not hiding the fact that there is a Spice problem in Cardiff. Spice is one of the ones that’s rising in the streets – people come off heroin and go onto Spice because it’s more accessible and it’s cheaper. If you have a substance misuse issue you will go for something more accessible and cheaper.
“There’s no help for Spice users. It’s an issue that there is nothing you can take to come off it. You have to detox on your own and it’s probably more unpleasant than heroin. It’s a horrible drug.”
Rory Saunders, who had been an outreach officer for two years, said the number of people who have substance abuse as their primary reason for being on the streets is a “smaller number than you think”.
That’s why homeless services such as hostels and other services such as The Huggard try to help them find other things to do, such as residential trips, to steer them away from the lure of drugs.
“Drugs are normally there to block something that’s gone on in their life, it’s an escapism,” said Lee.
It is closer to 3pm and after we walk around to The Hayes, where a woman is slumped near a shop front. She hadn’t collapsed – she was asleep.
Many rough sleepers in Cardiff avoid sleep during the night, fearing for their safety, so they tend to sleep during the day when there’s more people around and they feel more safe.
The woman, who is wrapped up in several layers of clothing, has her right leg in a brace and has some difficulty walking.
The Outreach Team says she had been in hospital for around eight weeks with an infected knee, andbecame homeless after a relationship breakup.
They get on the phone and secures her some floor space at Ty Tresillian, at least giving her a roof over her head.
The team also speak to another, middle aged man in The Hayes – originally from Pakistan, he has lived for the past 15 years in the UK but needs help with renewing his expired passport – as he currently has no access to public funds – which Rory is helping him with.
The Outreach Team get to know many of Cardiff’s rough sleepers on personal terms – and during their daily welfare checks walking around the city some are more receptive to help some days than others.
Their aim is provide help to the rough sleepers at the right time that they’re are ready to engage – and it can often take small steps to get them to engage and move off the streets and into housing.
Rory said: “The Outreach Team does work with individuals who may be the most vulnerable and experiencing chaotic periods in their lives. It may be difficult for them to engage for a number of reasons.
“Part of our job is to catch them at the right time to engage with services. It’s about finding out what people want to do and are ready to do and taking the steps necessary to achieve that. It’s not always likely that people will be able to turn their lives around in a short period of time.”
Cold weather provision for the homeless in Cardiff began earlier this month, providing more than 90 additional spaces on top of the 216 hostel places for single homeless people, 78 emergency beds, and 390 supported accommodation units that are available throughout the year.
But still rough sleeping has increased in Cardiff in recent years. Latest figures show there were 68 rough sleepers in Cardiff between July and September (quarter two 2018/19), up from 34 in quarter three 2014/15.
Rory said: “A real difficult thing for people is engaging with services even though there is a great deal of support available. It’s not easy to deal with issues which you have been dealing with your whole life.”
The council estimates around 40 per cent of the people sleeping rough in Cardiff have no local connections to the city – it says it tries to offer a solution for these people, which could include reconnecting people with their home area.
The Outreach Team, which reactively supports around 150 rough sleepers a year, says the majority of the people it deals with do have a local connection to Cardiff.
Lee said: “Cardiff is a magnet and the city is getting bigger. Cardiff is quite good for services – a lot of cities don’t have an Outreach Team.”
Rory added: “If they are made homeless and they can’t access support where they are they have to find it somewhere else.
“It’s not like homeless people are targeting Cardiff. They are trying to find what they need. They are people at the end of the day.”
You can contact the council’s Outreach Team on [email protected] or calling 02920 873900.
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