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‘Technically homeless’

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LH270516_Page_05_Image_0005SHE MAY not be the only one in Llanelli or Carmarthenshire who describes themselves this way.

The truth is that nobody really knows how many people are homeless in the county. While there are figures for people in temporary accommodation and figures for those waiting for housing. the figures for ‘homelessness’ are less well-defined.

A person can be homeless while sofa-surfing or staying with mates from night to night with no permanent address of their own.

Sitting in the graveyard of Llanelli Parish church Daisy begins by telling us how she became homeless. She admits that some of it was of her own doing but also says that the issues with the authorities played a part in her current plight: “I was doing well for myself, keeping out of trouble for about sixteen years.

“A neighbour moved in and I couldn’t cope with it. He was getting aggressive and banging doors in the early hours of the morning. He wasn’t dealt with by anyone.

“I saved up some money to move but it wasn’t enough. I started shop lifting. I went through some bad stuff and I made a complaint to the police.”

Daisy showed us some of the documents relating to her complaint. She said she only wanted to get away from a bad neighbour but she was told to go back to the property but was eventually evicted. Daisy has made a complaint to the group, Civil Liberties regarding her arrest.

She told us: “I came back to this area because I had nowhere else to go. I thought I might be able to see my children. I have lost everything. All my possessions including my ID have gone. I have asked for them back and I have asked my probation officer to help me get them back.”

As we were speaking to Daisy another man passed by and said hello to Daisy. I asked her if he was also homeless. She confirmed that he was sleeping rough but would not speak to us. She said some of the causes of homelessness include high rents and a lack of opportunities for getting out of a rut.

Speaking about her own situation Daisy told us: “My prospects are really bad. I have temporary accommodation now and they gave me some tins of food from the food bank, but I don’t have any saucepans.

“There are quite a few homeless people in Llanelli. You see them with their rucksacks around town. There is a place down Station Road that gives them food.

“I am not entitled to social housing because I am in arrears. It was under £500 but I still got evicted. They never gave me a form with an option to pay those arrears. They told me they were not going through with an eviction.

“My rent jumped from £435 to £900. I have asked for the paper work to look at. I could not afford that. I have been sitting in town and I do get hassled. I would get charged with a public order offence.

“I have to try and find private housing. I can claim £317 per month. I can’t find anywhere affordable to live for £317 per month. The lowest priced property I have seen is £425 per month. I haven’t got any money now.

Basically I have nothing. Some of it was of my own doing. I suffered because they put me in a place next to a terrible neighbour. Nobody wanted to listen. I had an abusive husband. The last thing I needed was an abusive neighbour.”

The Herald contacted The Big Issue and Shelter Cymru.

Jenny Bibbings is the campaigns manager for Shelter Cymru. We asked Jenny if she had any accurate figures for the number of homeless people in Wales and specifically in Carmarthenshire.

“I am not entirely sure of the figures in Carmarthenshire. There is a mobile worker who covers the Carmarthenshire area. The law on homelessness changed in April last year. All the stats have changed as well. It now considers households found homeless, roofless, sofa surfing and suffering from over crowding.”

We asked Jenny what the current position is on the definition of homelessness.

“It used to be that you had to be threatened with homelessness within 28 days, now that has doubled to 56 days. In England, the Department for Communities and Local Government is currently considering adopting the Welsh system.

Before the law changed in Wales, homelessness prevention was not within the law. There were no rights attached to it. It is now statutory for councils to do what they reasonably can to prevent a person becoming homeless through prevention work. In the past if you didn’t fit into the priority need criteria you didn’t get the help, which meant that single homeless people were most at risk of falling through the safety net.

Speaking about what support is available to people like Daisy she said: “Everybody should be getting a decent level of assistance for somewhere to live. The numbers are going up. There is monitoring but it isn’t brilliant. You have seen more than that by walking around Llanelli.

“We have seen a lot of welfare reforms making it more difficult for people to stay housed. Benefits don’t cover minimum rent and bedroom tax. A lot of homelessness is caused by simple life events.

“When you lose your home it is difficult to get it back. There is nowhere near enough social housing to go around. Private sector accommodation is all that is available. Landlords don’t want to let to people on benefits. We see people from all walks of life.

“The homeless figure is around 16,000 people across Wales. The cost of housing is a major factor. Rent arrears is the biggest issue because we have the most expensive housing in Europe. Increases in evictions from social housing coupled with court costs have doubled debt for people.”

Jenny Bibbings singled out Carmarthenshire County Council as having a very good team dealing with homelessness but she said that she was worried about the impending cuts to services within the authority, which she said would impact on the most vulnerable.”

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Llanelli becomes a Covid-19 ‘health protection zone’

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RESIDENTS in a large part of Llanelli are being put under new local restrictions in a ‘health protection zone’ following a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in the area.

The town is seeing a concentrated spread of cases compared with other parts of Carmarthenshire – in the last seven days, 85 positive cases have been identified in Llanelli (151.6 per 100,000 of the population) compared to 24 cases in the rest of Carmarthenshire (18.1 per 100,000 of the population).*

Public Health Wales officials are expecting numbers to continue rising over the coming week.

Carmarthenshire County Council and Hywel Dda University Health Board have worked with the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales to agree the temporary restrictions at sub-county level to try and halt the spread of the virus.

As of 6pm on Saturday September 26, 2020, residents living in defined parts of Llanelli will not be able to visit anyone else’s home, or accept visitors into their home, unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ such as providing care for a vulnerable person.

They should not arrange to meet indoors with anyone who they don’t live with, and travel in and out of the ‘health protection zone’ will also be limited – people should not leave the area or travel into the area unless it is essential. Travelling in and out of the zone for a holiday is not considered a reasonable excuse.

People are being asked to wear face coverings anywhere where they cannot maintain a two-metre distance from other people, including collecting children from school, in addition to the rules which already require them to wear a face covering in indoor spaces like shops and on public transport.

All indoor and outdoor visits to residential care homes have also been suspended.

Students may still travel into and out of the ‘health protection zone’ to go to school or college.

People living in the defined area of Llanelli must work from home, and employers must take all reasonable steps to support staff to do so.

Indoor public spaces such as leisure centres should only be used by people living in the defined area.

Shops will remain open, but people living outside the defined area of Llanelli should avoid travelling to visit them and shop in their own locality wherever possible.

The specific wards covered in the defined area of Llanelli are:

  • Bigyn
  • Bynea
  • Dafen
  • Elli
  • Felinfoel
  • Glanymor
  • Hendy
  • Hengoed
  • Llangennech
  • Lliedi
  • Llwynhendy
  • Tyisha
  • Swiss Valley

Although the pattern of increased positive cases is overwhelmingly concentrated in the Llanelli area where the restrictions have been strengthened, the whole of Carmarthenshire has now been put on alert, with a warning that the tighter restrictions may be extended if cases continue to spread.

Everyone – including those in the defined areas of Llanelli – is being urged to follow the national guidance around social distancing, good hygiene, self-isolation, testing and face coverings.

Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “It is worrying to see how sharply the number of positive cases has risen in the Llanelli area, and action has had to be taken to help stop the spread and break the chain of infections concentrated in this area to prevent a whole county lockdown.

“We must all do the right thing, follow the advice and protect each other. In parts of Llanelli, we’re asking people and businesses to make even greater sacrifices – we fully appreciate the impact this will have, but there is no other way. We must stop the spread.”

A mobile testing unit has been set up in Llanelli to manage the increased demand by local residents who have any of the Covid-19 symptoms – either a high temperature, a change or loss to taste or smell or a new continuous cough.

Reporting of positive cases in the town is fully expected to rise during the next two weeks with the increase in more targeted testing. But this is a positive indicator that cases are being identified and control measures put in place.

Chair of Hywel Dda University Health Board Maria Battle said: “Our local community has given us such tremendous support during the past few months. To protect the health of our people, including the most vulnerable, and to ensure our NHS resources are available to provide people with the care they need; we need the help of our Llanelli population and wider community now more than ever before. Whilst hospital admissions have not yet increased again for COVID cases, we have seen a sharp rise in positive cases in the community, and in time this is likely to have an impact on hospital admissions. The very best way we can support each other and those we love, is to follow local restrictions, minimise our contacts, practice good hygiene and self-isolate and book a test if we have any COVID-19 symptoms.”

Increased testing capacity for residents in Llanelli is available by appointment at the following locations:

  • Parc y Scarlets Car Park B, accessed via Trostre Retail Park, in Llanelli
  • The Ty’r Nant site (next to KFC), Trostre, Llanelli
  • The Carmarthen showground (signposted in both directions off the A40)

There should be no reason for Llanelli residents to travel excessive distances for a test, as there will be tests available in Llanelli and Carmarthen. Tests should be booked via the UK Portal. Any Llanelli residents experiencing difficulty booking a test locally via the UK portal can instead email covidenquiries.hdd@wales.nhs.uk or by calling 0300 333 2222.

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Tir Coed build outdoor classroom for Cross Hands Primary

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The local charity Tir Coed teamed up with Cross Hands Primary School to design and install a locally grown woodland shelter to enable primary school pupils to benefit from outdoor lessons-even when
the rain pours!

Last year Cross Hands Primary School received funding from Carmarthenshire is Kind for their intergenerational project. The project brought the schoolchildren together with older people in the community. Through intergenerational activities, everyone involved increases social connectedness, reduces social isolation, learns from one another and has a great time!

Before the lockdown, Tir Coed was contracted to lead a group mainly made up of parents from the school on a shelter-building course. The attendees would gain knowledge and skills and the children and the older people would be able to use the shelter, a third generation now included in this
fantastic project. The plans, however, had to change due to restrictions and in an effort to have it ready for the children when they returned to school, three intrepid Activity Leaders braved the wet August weather to build the beautiful shelter .

Studies have shown that being in the outdoors significantly reduces the risk of spreading the Corona Virus. With this addition to their already impressive outdoor area, it is hoped that more learning can
take place outside the classroom. Deputy Head, Emma Walters said, “It looks amazing! I am very impressed with the shelter and I cannot thank Tir Coed enough for organising this. Additional covered space in the outdoors will mean that we can take more learning into our lovely nature
area.”

If you would like to find out more about the work of Tir Coed or have a project you would like our help with you can contact Nancy, the Carmarthenshire Coordinator: carms@tircoed.org.uk

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Local sailor taking on virtual London marathon

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A local sailor based in the Falkland Islands will be taking on the Virtual London Marathon this October to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.

Curtis Bowen, 24, from Llanelli, South Wales, was due to take on the London Marathon for SSAFA this April, but following the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown, the race was cancelled. 

Fortunately, the London Marathon team created the Virtual London Marathon in its place, allowing runners to take on the challenge virtually alongside thousands of other runners on the 4th October.

Curtis said: “It was a shame that the London Marathon couldn’t go ahead as planned in April, but I think it is amazing that I am still able to partake whilst being in the Falkland Islands. I’m the first person to ever run the London Marathon in the Falkland Islands.”  

Curtis is currently serving in the Royal Navy, as a Leading Supply Chain Logistician, and has served for four years. His Father also served in the Royal Navy for twenty-three years.

The live virtual event on Sunday 4th October will invite runners to run the London Marathon in their own way, joining up to 45,000 runners up and down the country – and across the world – in the virtual 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, The 40th Race.

Curtis decided to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity after being an avid supporter of the charity and being inspired by his Father, Andrew, who raised over £6,000 for SSAFA. 

I chose to run the London Marathon for SSAFA to challenge myself and raise awareness for a great cause. My younger brother sadly took his own life a couple of years ago and I know that SSAFA are there to support those struggling with their Mental Health. I want to raise as much money as I can to support those struggling within the Armed Forces community.”

“My Father was also supposed to be running the London Marathon this year, but will now be completing the challenge virtually, alongside my brother, Luke, 12,000km away in South Wales.”

If you would like to support Curtis, please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Andrew-Bowen-London-marathon2020

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