Last November, in partnership with Capital Law, we held a very successful and enlightening 'Conversation on Homelessness' event. The event looked at how to raise the profile of issues around homelessness and how the business community in the capital city might provide support and opportunities for training and work. 

The catalyst for the Conversation on Homelessness was an initial blog piece written by Chris Nott, Senior Partner and Director of Capital Law, on the increase in rough sleeping and homelessness in Cardiff. One of the key observations from last November's event was that, in order to prevent future generations of homeless people on our streets, we should focus on youth homelessness. The next meeting to continue the Conversation on Homelessness will take place at 5.30pm at Cardiff and Vale College on Dumball's Road, and will seek to facilitate a discussion between members of the business community on how to ensure that those facing homelessness receive the support they need to get themselves back on their feet, into a safe and secure home, and the training or work experience they need to find lasting employment.

A year on from his initial blog, Chris reflects on how the Conversation on Homelessness has progressed to date, and the important role the business community has to play in eradicating homelessness.

A Conversation on Homelessness: part 2 - Chris Nott

A year’s passed since I wrote a blog on the increase in rough sleeping and homelessness in Cardiff; questioning what I, and others could do to help. It prompted an extraordinary reaction. Friends, colleagues, LinkedIn followers and, in turn, their followers commented and emailed me. Only one of them told me to mind my own business. Everyone else was as troubled by the problem as I was, and seemed to consider it one of the most serious afflictions on today’s society. I was struck, though, by the range of causes of rough sleeping and homelessness that were put forward by those writing to me. I was given explanations such as drugs/alcohol/mental health/the benefits system/housing shortage/the Tory’s and so on - confirming that neither my correspondents, nor I, knew what the cause was. 

In particular, I didn’t know enough about the range of charities dedicated to tackling homelessness, but they soon put that right. Of those that contacted me, and asked if I would collaborate with them was Llamau, whose mission is to alleviate Youth Homelessness. We decided to work together because they were imminently launching a campaign to end Youth Homelessness in Wales by 2027. Their campaign was to be launched by their Patron Michael Sheen, and Wales’ First Minister, Carwyn Jones AM, giving it Welsh Government oomph. It was gathering widespread support.

Rather than deliver a speech at the launch, Michael arranged to interview two youngsters who were working with Llamau, and who, at that time, were sleeping rough. One of the teenagers, Matthew, who now has a career in a Sky call centre, spoke of being thrown out by his parents, and living for six and a half months under a tree in Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd, washing his school uniform in the stream and drying it on bushes. Yes, he still went to school. He was too proud to tell anyone where he slept. These two young people had the whole audience in captivated silence.

I agreed to help connect the business community with Llamau’s campaign, and a lot of them turned up late last year to the Novotel to hear from six speakers. Cardiff Council’s team, and their leader Huw Thomas, were there in force, as were the leaders of Pobl (the Housing Association), Barod (formerly DrugAid Wales), the Big Issue, and Jeff Smith (@bigmoose). We called it a Listen and Learn event. My hope was that it would enthuse many into volunteering to work alongside Llamau. I hadn’t factored in the impact of having two young people– Lily and Corey –  currently working with Llamau who shared their experience of homelessness. When Jeff’s rousing speech ended with him asking the audience which of them would help. Everyone offered to. Everyone. 

Since then, many of those that volunteered have worked in four groups discussing new ways of tackling rough sleeping and homelessness. I’m hoping that they’ll all get back together at Cardiff and Vale College on 30th April to agree on a plan of action, and get on with implementing it. Three themes have emerged: the need to develop new social enterprises, potential work placements to help those young people putting homelessness behind them and the need to develop a  more formal system of offering pro bono support along with new ways of raising funds to support the charitable work going on. 

The support from the business community has, so far, been terrific but there are many who should have been helping who haven’t been. I’m concerned that those who’ve participated consider that they’ve done their bit. There’s much more to do, and we need consistent, long term support. Conceiving of new ideas and a plan is one thing, but the hard work comes in implementing it. Of course, we all have busy lives, some busier than others, but we need to find those people in the business community who are prepared to give a little bit of their time towards Ending Youth Homelessness in Wales, and alleviating rough sleeping and homelessness generally. Let me know if you’re one of them, or if you know someone who is. Or help by forwarding and circulating this Blog.

I suspect that many of you, like me, shuddered at the thought of having to sleep rough in the freezing weather that blighted Cardiff in March. You’ll have seen yet more rough sleepers around the City Centre. There are now nearly 100 people sleeping rough there every night. The changes in the benefits system are predicted to make this worse. Much is being done, like the new credit card contactless donation point launched by Sam Warburton, but my sense is that the business community, comprising some of our most successful people, could do much more if it worked together, collaboratively, using its brains, and its brawn. You know it makes sense.