A police boss heard how a man had been living rough on the streets of Wrexham for 20 years following the death of his mum from cancer.
According to Paul Evans, 49, he became addicted to drugs in prison and was now trapped in a vicious cycle of decline that’s ruined his life.
Paul says he’s now living in constant fear of being killed, either by having petrol thrown over him and set alight or being kicked to death.
He explained his plight to North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones who spent a whole day on the streets of Wrexham to find out what it was like for someone without a roof over their head.
As well as raising awareness of the issue of homelessness, the Day in the Streets initiative organised by AVOW, the Association of Voluntary Organisations, has raised more than £2,000 for the charity, Wrexham Homeless.
After spending 12 hours walking the streets, Mr Jones, a former police inspector, called for Tŷ Nos, Wrexham’s night shelter in Holt Road, to be open all day and not just for 12 hours at night.
Mr Jones believes that having the shelter open all the time will reduce the risk of anti-social behaviour that’s been upsetting residents and local businesses alike.
Paul Evans, who hails from Pentre Broughton, said: “I lived with my mum but she died of cancer. I looked after her but when she was gone I lost the house. There were lots of rows with my brothers and sisters. I ended up homeless.
“Sleeping on the streets is dangerous. We constantly fear someone throwing petrol on us and a lighted match, that or just kicking us to death. People think we are all heroin addicts and deserve all we get.
“But behind every homeless person there’s a story and generally they want to tell that story but don’t really know how to.”
He added: “Drugs are a big issue. Now there isn’t much heroin but instead we have what were once called legal highs. It took over from heroin, stuff like Mamba. Everyone in authority was happy heroin addiction went down but no one has thought about the problem from Mamba.
“People get addicted in jail, that’s where I got addicted. I had no idea what Mamba was until I went to jail. I got eight months in the crown court for commercial burglary. I stole about £40 worth of copper wire as I had no money. I’ve been to jail about 20 times.
“Now, I wander around dodging the police mostly. What we need is somewhere to go and someone to sit down and talk to us properly. We need to be given some respect and not treated like a low life.
“We need a chance. Going to jail all the time is pointless what does it achieve? I just want some help to set up a base and not have to find somewhere dry and safe to sleep at night.”
Mr Jones said: “These homeless people know what residents and businesses feel about them. They know about anti-social behaviour and drug and alcohol addiction. But they need help and somewhere to go.
“We need to make Tŷ Nos available 24 hours a day, every day. There is no point turning these people out onto the streets at 8am leaving them with nowhere to go and not expect there to be problems.
“They simply have nowhere to go and nothing to do. Tŷ Nos should be available as a drop-in centre. That would be a step in the right direction and a start to sorting out what is a complex issue.”
He added: “I’ve been surprised at just how eloquent and knowledgeable some of these people are. It’s actually a huge waste. Some of these people, given access to the right services, have a huge amount to offer.
“And they recognise psycho active substances are taking over from traditional heroin and other Class A drugs. They are a lot cheaper but the issue is no one knows how strong they are or what’s actual in them.
“It’s the sheer boredom that can cause issues. They leave Tŷ Nos and wander the streets all day getting moved on from one place to another. Many have their benefits stopped and are left with no money and no means of looking after themselves.
“While there are services, they don’t always work as closely with each other as they perhaps should. We need to have some joined up thinking if we are going to tackle the problem. I really do think it’s a case of there but for the grace of God. Homelessness is an issue that could trap many, many more people.”
The Day in the Streets event was organised by Peter Jones, a Wrexham Substance Misuse Volunteer Co-ordinator.
He said: “We do have a drop in centre at Tŷ Croeso in Grosvenor Road which is run by three staff members and volunteers.
“The people who are homeless have nothing to do but be bored. Benefits get stopped and without money they can’t even go to the toilet. In Wrexham using a public toilet is going to cost 20p. These people often don’t have 20p.
“Having the support of the Police and Crime Commissioner is a big help. It’s a major issue and one that isn’t going to go away.
Surveyor Nigel Lewis, who chairs the Town Centre Forum, says the publicity surrounding homelessness in Wrexham was having an adverse effect on business.
He said: “We are trying to regenerate the town centre but homelessness and the issues surrounding means we are taking a step back. These are people with real drug and mental health issues.
“It’s been a real eye-opener coming out today and working together to try and find a solution. What we need is organisations to work together and not independently.
“Like the Police and Crime Commissioner I want to see Tŷ Nos open all day, what’s the point in leaving people to wander the streets with nowhere to go and nothing to do.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Wrexham County Borough Councillor Marc Jones.
He said: “The issue we have is that there are as many as 17 people sleeping rough at the rear of Tŷ Croeso every night and it’s causing an intolerable situation for residents whose properties back onto the centre’s grounds.
“There’s noise, drug taking, people defecating and indecently exposing themselves on a nightly basis. We need a long-term solution as well as an immediate solution to the problem of rough sleeping at Tŷ Croeso.
“Opening up Tŷ Nos during the day would be a massive help. But if we are going to get rough sleepers off the streets we need a joined up approach and to stop just talking about it.”