Radical political analysis, commentary and discussion in Wales
Dadansoddiad a thrafodaeth radicalaidd o wleidyddiaeth yng Nghymru
Subscribe to our RSS feed

Solidarity with the homeless in Cardiff

There were already signs a month before the start of the Olympics in Cardiff that the police presence in and around Central Square and the railway station had been stepped up. Soon it became clear that the intention was to crack down heavily on street drinkers, beggars and rough sleepers before the Games started, a campaign of social cleansing to improve the image of the city for Olympic visitors. This only seemed to be confirmed by the indecent haste, just days before the first event, that the homeless were moved from their temporary hostel accommodation at the edge of the city centre to a brand new, purpose-built - but still unfinished - hostel complex safely just out of sight. A number of homeless people were then subjected to CRASBOs and excluded from the city centre area, and several were taken into custody for breaking the terms of those orders.

The local press published a timely article just before the start of the Games. A local jeweller David Hughes-Lewis, on behalf of Cardiff Retail Partnership, argued for using the 1824 Vagrancy Act against beggars and homeless people so that tourists would not be put off.
“If this is a law which is still in existence and South Wales Police aren’t making use of it then the question is why? If it’s there to be used and the Met are using it then so should we.”

There was widespread anger when this article appeared. A meeting was called by concerned citizens and over 50 people gathered in Bute Park. The jeweller's son, Jonathan Hughes-Lewis attended and attempted to defend his father, claiming that he had been misquoted and had been complaining about anti-social behaviour in the city centre rather than attacking the homeless. Mr Hughes-Lewis was listened to politely and was taken at his word. However, the press has since denied that there was any misquoting in the original article and an interview with Hughes-Lewis Junior expressing the same views that caused the initial consternation was broadcast on BBC Wales news.

At the same Bute Park meeting plans were laid for a protest demonstration by the Olympic rings on the City Hall lawn the following week. This was again well attended, in spite of poor weather, with speakers from a number of organisations as well as homeless and ex-homeless people, and culminated in a picnic on the lawn.

The Cardiff Homelessness Solidarity Campaign now seems to be firming up for the long term. It's a diverse group that seeks to cooperate with existing charities and organisations in the field rather than duplicating already-existing services. The campaign is also free to make the political points about homelessness and its causes that charities are unable to express. There are a number of concrete plans being worked on, including the "People's Kitchen" where homeless and the poor can have a free meal and chat informally to campaigners. Plans for a regular homeless solidarity stall in the city centre as a focus for practical and political support are well advanced. The major focus for the short term is gearing up for campaigning on World Homelessness Day.

The group has produced a statement called "Everyone has the right to a home" that links homelessness to poverty in general and the precariousness of virtually everybody's lives in the current climate where the poor are being made by the state to pay for the mistakes and naked greed of the wealthy. "In Austerity Britain many are only one paycheque away from homelessness." The fact that squatting in residential properties has just been criminalised while the government seeks to cut the huge amounts of housing benefit paid to exploitative private landlords is surely the ultimate irony.