Man, 80, sleeping in seafront shelter rides buses to stay warm
It’s very early on a beautiful May morning and the English Riviera is just waking up. Dog walkers stroll along the prom with takeaway coffees and paddleboarders paddle by as the sun glints off the mirror-calm sea. Tom gets up and stifles a yawn.
He folds his blankets neatly and gets ready to start his day. Just a stone’s throw from the idyllic sun-kissed seafront scene, the 80-year-old former truck driver is facing another day without a home of his own. He has slept the night in a seafront shelter, as he has done ever since the weather started to warm up.
In the depths of the cold winter he slept on a bus as it travelled hundreds of miles from London up to Glasgow and back, once a night, every night for four long months. At GBP12.50 a trip it was cheaper than trying to find a warm bed for the night. : Romesh Ranganathan reveals he was racially abused while performing in Barnstaple
“I’ve got money,” says Tom, who is originally from Scotland. “I’ve got pensions. But every time I try and get somewhere to live and they find out my age, the shutters go down.” Tom travelled the length and breadth of Europe at the wheel of his truck in his younger days, but now he has been homeless for years, since his wife and then his daughter died, and then a family rift sent him on to the streets.
His folded blankets go neatly into his bag, he pulls his woolly hat tight on his head and sets off for the pub where he will have breakfast.
The Torbay Council outreach team does what it can for rough sleepers in the bay
There is some hope that he will find a roof over his head tonight, though, and that hope arrives in a battered people carrier. Daimon Festorazzi and Josh Hamilton are members of Torbay Council’s government-funded outreach team working with the bay’s rough sleepers. There are about 15 people currently thought to be sleeping rough in the bay, and there are many more “sofa surfing” with friends and relatives, unable to find homes of their own.
The outreach team heads out in its people carrier to make sure rough sleepers are all right, and start the process of trying to find them a home. There are some people who decline all offers of help and are content to sleep rough. There are others sleeping in hard-to-find spots in woodlands in places like Cockington.
“Before I did this I didn’t realise that it was as big a problem as it is in Torbay,” says Daimon. In a darkened corner of a multi-storey car park they find Dave, who is zipped inside a small tent. Dave is in his late 50s.
He can’t remember how long he has been sleeping rough but he knows it’s his birthday next week, and he will probably spend it in the car park. He hasn’t had a hot meal or a hot drink for days, and as an extra complication to helping him, all his ID has been stolen. Also, Dave is “clean” and is adamant he won’t go into a hostel alongside people who use drugs.
He has been attacked recently, and says he is at the end of his tether. Daimon says he will do what he can to help, and climbs back into the people carrier. It is surprisingly common for rough sleepers to have no paperwork at all. “People just don’t have any kind of photo ID,” says Daimon. “That’s something we take for granted, but it can cause huge problems.” And Dave isn’t alone in having been the victim of violence on the streets in Torbay.
People are advised to sleep near CCTV cameras if they can.
In April 2016 rough sleepers were using a shelter on Torquay seafront, now blocked off by the council (Image: Andy Styles)
Further along the seafront a rough sleeper lies huddled in a blanket. He doesn’t want help right now, but Josh says he will come back later to check he’s OK. A young couple are just getting up after sleeping in a doorway with their dog, and in a white van two men have woken up to find Daimon and Josh at their door with offers of help.
Other regular rough sleeping spots such as the shelters on Paignton seafront and the stairwells of the multi-storey car parks are empty this morning, but will probably be in use the next time the team passes through. “We are getting a lot of younger people, many of whom have just left the care system,” says Josh. “During the Covid pandemic a lot of families spent a lot of time living on top of one another, and after that we had a lot of younger people sleeping rough. “There were a lot of evictions through people getting into rent arrears, and through second homes being sold on the housing market.
I don’t think it’s getting any better. As soon as we pick one person up there’s another one who needs help.” The round in the people carrier finished, Daimon and Josh will spend the rest of the day making phone calls, sitting in on meetings and sending emails, trying to find solutions for the problems nobody sees.
They have a “pool” of local landlords who can offer accommodation of various types, including shared houses. The council’s housing options team will make contact with rough sleepers and assess their needs. If they meet certain criteria, including health and mental health issues, pregnancy, the presence of young children or a recent release from prison, they can be offered temporary accommodation.
If not, the outreach team then tries to find them somewhere to live. “People don’t understand that councils can’t just pick someone off the street and give them a property,” says Daimon. “They don’t have the ability to do that. “People don’t understand what the council is actually doing, and that there are people out there trying to help. We are not just ignoring this and sweeping it under the carpet.
We don’t have anything to do with enforcement – we are there to help people.”
Debenham’s in Torquay has been boarded up (Image: Devon Live)
Some vulnerable town centre shop fronts have been boarded up to stop them becoming a haven for rough sleepers, but while the boards might appease those who complain, they don’t solve the housing problem. Most rough sleepers are men, and women sleeping out alone are rare, although Daimon and Josh say they see more couples sleeping rough than they used to. “There has always been a stigma attached to homelessness, and there always will be,” says Daimon. “More education is needed.
You see things going on in schools – quite rightly – about disability, race, diversity etc, but you don’t see anything about drug and alcohol addiction, or street homelessness.” And all the while – as the rest of Torbay wakes up and goes about its business – people like Tom and Dave face another day searching for a roof over their heads. “People make their minds up that rough sleepers all have substance abuse issues but that isn’t true,” says Josh. “What I have learned is that it can happen to anyone.”
If you are concerned about someone sleeping rough, click www.streetlink.org.uk
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