ROOF research, Greg Ellis
Research undertaken by Greg Ellis, 3rd Year Business Undergrad at UWTSD, Swansea 2015
Of all the areas in Wales, Swansea has the highest number of officially homeless individuals. This can be seen clearly in the following graph which depicts the number of individuals/ homes per 1,000 for each of the Welsh Counties as of 2011. It is clear that not only is the problem worse in Swansea than elsewhere in the country, but what is not shown here and has been unobtainable from a reasonably credible source is that the problem has in fact worsened since 2011 although the figures are not yet at the highest level of 2006/ 2007.
Swansea is believed to be fairly typical in terms of the reasons people find themselves homeless according to Crisis Research UK. That is to say male participants have historically sited relationship breakdown, substance misuse and leaving an institution as their primary causes and homeless women’s most common causes have been physical or mental health problems and escaping violent relationships.
Swansea is also typical as regards the consequences of homelessness for those trapped in the cycle. According to Crisis Research UK, homelessness damages people’s ability to function in a normal manner through loss of skills, an inability to focus on employment whilst worrying about housing, impaired health and a loss of resilience, self esteem and self-confidence. (http://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/causes-consequences.html)
Swansea’s location at the end of the main train-line is no doubt a contributory factor to the high rate of homelessness here but for reasons as to why an individual is homeless Swansea is believed to be statistically fairly typical of Wales as depicted by the following pie chart.
In order to gain as great an insight as possible with the resources and in the time available, homeless people were approached on the streets of Swansea at various times of day and night and asked questions in line with the questionnaire which will follow.
First attempts made were met with mixed levels of suspicion from those questioned. For this reason the researcher grew a fairly long beard and dressed down as a means of blending in. This endeavour proved very successful and seemed to overcome much of the latent hostility / mistrust experienced on initial visits.
The general method employed throughout this study has been simply to approach any homeless person encountered around Swansea City centre providing they meet the criteria of not being visibly heavily intoxicated.
A conversation is struck up at first starting with something simple like the weather for example from that generally it could be gauged if they were in the mood to talk and providing there are no signs of hostility, the researcher went on to offer a cup of tea and a cigarette before asking if they could spare some time for a chat about their life for a university study in which their identity would remain as undisclosed as they liked.
Prior to going out on the streets a questionnaire was devised and approved by the client before being committed to memory by the interviewer in order to avoid carrying a clip-board etc which could prove off putting to the desired demographic.
After completing the conversations with the participants and thanking them for their time, the interviewer would head to the nearest cafe to write up the answers while they were fresh in mind.
In total a sample of 14 participants was gained although more like 20 people were questioned the remaining six took a disliking to various points in the process and asked to be excluded and their wish was honoured.
Twelve successful trips in to town were made in total and approximately 2 to 3 hours was spent on each outing. There were four occasions when visits yielded no useable data and again these trips lasted between 2 to 3 hours. All the investigation/ questioning was completed over a four week period after a trial run some two weeks previous to this.
Results on questionnaire
Most important possessions
There were many answers given by the various individuals interviewed which appear to be individual and of no great significance to this study.
As some examples of these idiosyncrasies, Mark identified a framed picture of a deceased pet dog, Tina listed a cuddly toy and Dezzy stated that a pocket watch was his most important possession.
Of the 14 individuals studied, all listed a coat as important to them, 12 listed a large bag, 11 listed a sleeping bag, thermal or warm under garments were listed by 9 people, there were 7 people who identified an umbrella as important, 6 people identified a thermos or large bottle and 5 people listed a camping mat. 12 of those asked kept a store of food and stated that this was important to them.
Normal day and night routines.
There were big differences in the way that individuals spent an average day and night of their lives. Many of those questioned found this question hard to answer and stated that availability of finances, weather and which day of the week it was played a big part in defining their activities. Of the respondents, 10 spent a large amount of time begging on the streets of Swansea, one spent a large amount of time engaged in prostitution. The individuals who are currently taking illicit drugs stated that acquiring and consuming these drugs played a large part in their routines. Visiting Zakk’s place and other shelter/food provision services was identified by seven of those asked as being part of their normal daily life.
Engaging with friends in a similar situation was part of life for six respondents. Visiting friends at their place of residence was part of a normal day for five of the people asked. Nearly all of the people asked said that their routines were based around the city centre as much as was allowed by the police and Rangers.
Feelings towards their situation
Tom said he felt generally that normal life was not for him, he feels distrust towards people especially those in authority like the police and City Rangers. He was not happy with his situation but felt “a house and kids” was not for him. He said that drugs made it easier to not think about his situation.
Mark doesn’t like being homeless but feels confident of finding accommodation soon. He said it was clear when begging that many people “look down” on him but that this didn’t matter to him. Of the time he has spent homeless he has been on the streets for about half the time and said that he was often happier sleeping out than relying on someone.
Dezzy felt embarrassed when he is seen begging by people he knows but also feels contempt for anyone who thinks themselves better than him.
Mieszko stated that the situation he is in is depressing and misses working greatly, he feels that people look at him like a “criminal or bad person”.
Scott feels his situation has come about through no fault of his own but that people look at him with “judgement in their eyes” often. He said that finding a job would improve his life but didn’t know what he wanted to do.
Tina said she knows her situation was a result of drug use and that her situation would be ok if it wasn’t for “letting her children down”. She doesn’t feel she can change things. Men rarely show any interest in her for anything apart from sex and she is clearly distrustful towards men. She stated that she had been abused when younger but didn’t identify this as being relevant to her situation.
Chloe said that her situation made her feel “desperate” and scared for the future. She feels trapped and again listed her children being let down as her main reason for regrets. She stated that all she wanted was to change her situation for herself.
The second Mark interviewed, who will be referred to here as Mark A. stated that his situation made him feel worthless and that he had contacted several institutions and charities for advice/ help including the one for ex-servicemen and that they had been generally useless. He felt that a job would help and that when he managed to secure some work he felt better. In summary though, he said he feels trapped on a housing waiting list.
In depth conversation with Arthur was difficult as he clearly suffers with a hearing problem. What he did say about his situation was that he found it better here than in Coventry but that it was not as a result of the support facilities but the other homeless people he had met being friendlier.
Petru stated that before his relationship broke down and effectively made him homeless he had thought Swansea a great place. His situation now makes him feel that people here are not genuine and that they look down on him. He said that racism was something he experienced often and whilst begging he had been told such things as “f*** off back to your country”. He said he feels that alcohol has ruined his relationship and caused his problems.
Danny said his situation was frightening at times and he felt his parents had caused his situation and his exposure to drugs at a young age made him the way he is. He doesn’t feel people care about him or his situation.
Paul stated that his situation here is better than it was in Birmingham because he feels safer on the streets. He also stated though that he had often experienced racism whilst begging as a result of mostly drunk revellers. He said he feels trapped and that it made him sad which made him use drugs/ alcohol more.
Wayne said that his situation was only slightly better than being in jail which was the reason along with drug use and crime he identified as causing his situation. He explained that it made him feel less than human to be in his situation and that he regularly spent time off the streets with friends etc but that he didn’t trust people since being homeless.
Statistical analysis of results
The average age of the people encountered during research seemed to be slightly older but of those interviewed, the average age is 30 Years and 4 months.
The sample consisted of six people from Swansea, six from elsewhere in the UK and two from Europe.
Of those interviewed 92.9% were white and the remainder black.
The average mean time that individuals had spent on the street was 1.7 years with a mode figure split between one year and two years equally and a median of 1 year homeless. There were figures significantly far from these averages especially on the high side.
71% of the individuals asked had no children or pets. The remainder had little or no contact with the children they had.
The study revealed that of the homeless people asked 57% had a criminal record of one form or another of these but only 14% had actually served a custodial sentence. 43% of those interviewed had no criminal record.
The study revealed 14% of the sample had served time in the military and 35% had previously been engaged in long term employment.
The frequency of outdoor sleeping varied greatly between those asked.
As is clearly depicted by the pie chart above though, over half of the sample spend most or all of their nights sleeping outdoors.
The appearance of coat being listed by all those asked and a sleeping bag being listed by 79% it is clear that the garment being proposed to be made would prove a valuable addition to many homeless people.
The use of drugs and alcohol between our participants was as follows:
One of the respondents said she used alcohol “slightly” so this has not been included in the graphical representation but if it were to be included the figure would rise to 71% for clarity of understanding the figures are as follows:
Crack cocaine 14%
The question was about regular consumption which they deemed problematic in their lives.
The vast majority had no barrier to education in their opinions, though 7% sited a language barrier, 7% had hearing difficulty and 14% were illiterate.
Regarding an interest in training towards a new career, 29% were interested, 14% said they might be interested and the remainder had no interest currently. This may sound like a low level of interest but it is far from discouraging when you think of 29% of all those people in Swansea who are homeless as being interested.
When responding to whether they could commit to a period of 8 weeks sober 7% said maybe, 7% said probably and 7% said yes, with the vast majority stating that they could not commit to this. What is encouraging here but also possibly misleading as a result of only 14% of the sample being female is that half of the women asked stated they could commit to 8 weeks sober for training.
43% of the interviewees stated that they barely used any of the support facilities available to them in Swansea. The remaining 57% used a variety including Zakk’s place and shelters but the loss of the Cyrenian’s facility on the High Street was mentioned by many of the respondents.
The above graph shows that the highest instance of cause for homelessness was the breakdown of some sort of relationship followed closely by lifestyle (crime, drug use, alcoholism). The N/A portion of the chart is as a result of the interviewer failing to ask the question to one participant.
The availability of participants who are willing and able to spend the time and effort required may seem low statistically speaking but it is important to bear in mind that there are a great deal of homeless people in the Swansea area. This study does not seem to reveal that there is a need for crèche facilities, though this may become apparent with larger female demographics as those studied by the other interviewers listed in the project initiation document, though their particular questions may or may not reveal this.
There is no reason revealed by this feasibility study why RDM’s initiative to provide training should not be a successful and worthy endeavour. What the results also show clearly is that for most people homelessness is something which has happened to them in their life as a result of circumstances beyond their control, it could happen to anyone who is not fortunate enough to have a loving family etc to support them and these people certainly do not deserve to be judged and made to feel less than worthwhile by anyone.