What it’s like to sleep on the streets of Swindon according to street sleepers

THE harsh reality of sleeping on the streets of Swindon this winter has been laid bare by those forced into it as they describe the abuse, the crime – and the lack of options they believe are available.

Tom, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, told the Adver how he was trying to deal with the trauma of his son’s suicide as he slept in a tent in a wooded area of ​​a field.

He stayed there for five weeks with his rescue dog and described how he chopped down trees and inserted them into the soil around his site to protect himself and his property.

But Tom, who suffers from a split personality, has already seen his other tent set on fire, forcing him to squat in an abandoned house before being kicked out of there as well.

James has been sleeping rough for over two months and described sleeping on nights when the temperature drops to -3 degrees.

Speaking under a parking ramp where he had barricaded himself with cushions, quilt and things to make access more difficult for others, James recently told us how his things were stolen, adding to a long list of goods. taken because of its position.

Like Tom, he too faces trauma, having to deal with the death of his best friend.

He said he applied for jobs but, because he has no fixed address, he continues to be rejected.

“I wrote down the address of the Job Center, but employers ask me why I’m lying about where I live,” he said.

“I’m fit and pretty healthy, but you need a skill to work.

“If someone came here and offered me a job, I would totally agree. ”

A total of 31 rough sleepers were found around Swindon in December by the Threshold outreach team, a charity for the homeless.

In the early hours of the morning, the team searches for those who might need help and who have slept on the streets the night before.

But they say the actual number of people living in homelessness in Swindon is likely higher. Some street sleepers get up before 6 a.m. when the outreach team begins their route around town so they won’t be seen.

Swindon Borough Council has offered temporary accommodation as part of the provision of temporary winter housing until March, meaning more people have a roof over their heads in the short term.

But for Tom and James, the options available are the ones they feel they cannot accept.

Tom has already tried the two solutions of the municipality: short-term emergency accommodation which provides a bed for three nights and a room in a B&B used by the municipality.

He claims to have developed an addiction to heroin and cocaine after staying at the B&B and says it is best to stay on the streets.

“I turned to drugs to fit in and they knew I had mental health issues and my son had just committed suicide.

“I have hit rock bottom at this B&B so I can’t go back. I prefer to be out here and free.

“I can’t do emergency accommodation because I can’t be with people and it’s like being in a prison with electronic doors.

“I like this life more. I don’t care how cold it is.

But it’s not that simple as Tom has admitted the difficulties of opening a bank account without ID and without an address.

Former DJ Tom said he made a living from his profession, but after a break-up his partner sold his music equipment.

James has also been offered temporary accommodation or has been told he can be returned to Salisbury where he has connections, but he is also unsure of the accommodation option, fearing he might encounter potential criminals .

“It’s freezing here, but it’s the only option for me. I really can’t go in there, ”he said.

His motorbike is his pride and joy, but he says he was told to sell it.

“When I do find a job, it’s an asset and I won’t have to depend on taxis and buses,” he said.

“People say I should sell it for a few pounds, but it’s going to last me forever.”

A spokesperson for Threshold said: “When we meet people who resist offers of support to end sleep on the streets, we don’t give them up on their own, but we continue to visit them frequently, seek to establish a meaningful professional relationship with them, to establish the necessary trust in these people.

“We do this so that they can be frank about their personal reasoning for sleeping in the street, frank about their thoughts and feelings to such an extent that we can build a very clear picture of their real needs and identify avenues of care. and support most appropriate for them.

“Some people have personal reasons that will cause them to refuse an offer of emergency accommodation or to be placed in one of the most famous B & Bs in town.

“People usually mention that they don’t want to be around active drug addicts or, in some cases, when it comes to the B&B, they have heard of the extent of sexual, indecent or other violent assaults that have taken place there. place, or the rampant drug trafficking frequently occurring there or nearby.

“It’s just the reality that many people would rather stay in a tent or sleep on the street when faced with such an offer.

“A suitable and safe accommodation offer is what will appeal the most to street sleepers.

“The most prevalent factor among the majority of persistent street sleepers we encounter in Swindon are significant unmet mental health support needs as well as unmet support needs for illicit substances or alcohol dependence. .

“If it weren’t for the significant funds made available to house so many homeless people since the start of the pandemic and so far, then the death rates that we have seen across the homeless community would have been considerably higher locally than them. has been.

“The simple act of housing people, even in the absence of other care or support factors, decreases the risk of death and reduces, if only marginally, the harmful effects of poor physical health and mental.

“We still have difficulty registering even some homeless people in GP surgeries and yet everyone has the legal right to register with a GP and access medical care in the UK. United.”

The board said it could not comment on the Tom and James cases highlighted in the Adver’s report as the details are confidential.

Cathy Martyn, Cabinet Member for Housing and Public Safety, added: “We will always work with anyone who sleeps rough or returns to the streets. Any issue should be raised directly with us.

“Accommodation is provided promptly to any known street sleeper in Swindon who has access to public funds and has a connection to the area.

Regarding the 31 rough sleepers in December, she said: “While the numbers may seem high for those rough sleeping each month, the average number for each night paints a different picture.

“While there were 31 people seen sleeping outside during the month of December, there was only an average of three people per night because quick fixes were found or people chose to return to the accommodation whose they had.

“The reasons for sleeping on the streets can be complex and we will always try to find solutions for anyone who needs our help. ”