Wrexham has been enveloped by a gloomy, dark grey sky. It is the first rainy day for what seems a long time.
At the Salvation Army Citadel on the outskirts of the town centre, a group of homeless people seem very grateful for the shelter, a warm drink and a hot breakfast.
I was there to meet retired doctor Geraint Owens, a volunteer not with the Salvation Army, but with a group called Weekend Feeding The Roofless.
The group, run by 11 of the town’s churches, provide hot meals on weekends and works alongside organisations and services such as Cais and The Elms, the
Salvation Army and homeless charity Wallich (which runs St John’s hostel on Chester Road) to provide a wider network of support offered to homeless people in Wrexham.
I’ve visited the town’s homeless shelter on Holt Road a number of times and thought I was pretty well aware of the extent of homelessness in the area. It seems I was wrong.
“We (Feeding the Roofless) feed between 20 and 30 people on a Saturday or a Sunday,” Geraint said as he led us into the Salvation Army building. “In 2009 there were over 370 different names on the register. There’s a passing population because of the services as well as the regulars we see.”
Inside, Salvation Army volunteers like Janet Murfin, Diane Jones and Liz Pugh are making tea and preparing food in the kitchen while a number of homeless people are sitting in the dining area.
Among the latter is 42-year-old Steven Ellis. Steven revealed he had been released from prison a few days earlier.
Steven admitted his problems had stemmed from alcohol.
“I’ve been in prison for two months,” he said. “In 2008 I got a 15-month sentence which I completed and then went straight into rehab, so I went 21 months without drinking. But I ended up in a flat – supported housing – and relapsed two days before Christmas last year. I ended up at a hostel in Birkenhead, drinking and fighting, and got kicked out. I was arrested when I got back to Wrexham.
“I’d just like to get myself a base. I could get a bit of money to get back on my feet and try to get a job. Without that address I can’t do anything.”
“It is a vicious circle for many of them,” Geraint says. “A lot of the work that’s done is an attempt to get them into a more stable situation.”
“There’s sometimes a little tension within the ‘roofless’ community – you’ll sometimes see them coming in with black eyes or more serious injuries,” Geraint says. “But they do realise that if they stick together they have a better chance and they try to police each other, especially in here. I’ve never been in a situation where any of them have been violent.”
He adds: “The health issues that these people have are significant – their life expectancy is half that of the rest of the population.
“They might have alcohol related problems such as cirrhosis of the liver. Then there are drug related problems such as infections in the injection sites. You see some on crutches who have even had limbs amputated because of an infection.
“Then there’s immunity problems, often exacerbated by the weather – pneumonia is common.”
While there are a number of services available to the homeless in Wrexham, those involved in the support network are keen to do more – specifically, setting up a day centre where clients can access all these services.
“One of the big problems is that there’s nowhere for them to go during the day,” Geraint added. “You could find them something to do which could involve teaching them work related skills.
“The example we’ve seen, in Rhyl, has been very successful. All the services are located on site and can be directly accessed.”