From rock bottom to turning a life around

A former Cardiff rough sleeper, who has begun training as a barista in a city coffee shop, has spoken of how he hit rock bottom before seizing the opportunity to start rebuilding his life with the help of Cardiff Council's homelessness services.


For years, Cardiff born and bred, Craig Gillatt, found himself caught in a revolving door of homelessness as alternating periodsof rough sleeping on the streets and short prison sentences prevented him from engaging in a meaningful way with support services available in the city.


But today, Craig is one of many people taking advantage of ‘Warm Welcome' diversionary activities organised by the council's Outreach Team to help people experiencing homelessness turn their lives around.


As part of those activities Craig recently began attending coffee mornings at the Little Man Coffee Shop, on Tudor Lane, and now, determined not to return to the streets, he's working towards a greater level of independence by volunteering at the coffee mornings to gain work experience as a barista and to build his confidence for the future.


Twenty-six-year-old Craig said: "I was on the streets this year, but I worked with the council's outreach team to come in. I came off the drugs and I have my own flat now and am doing really well. I volunteer twice a week - I help make coffees and even do the dishes. Things are better now. I hit rock bottom and now I'm climbing back up the ladder slowly.


"I've been advising people I know who are going through the same things I went through, to do what I've done. If I can do it, anyone can. My aim eventually is to be a support worker to help people who are homeless."


Little Man Coffee Shop manager, Laura Bradford, describes Craig as a ‘real asset'.


She said: "We started working with the council to run drop-ins at our shops on Bridge St and Tudor Lane where people who are homeless or vulnerably housed can come to have coffee and meet with people to have helpful conversations. It's a great thing to be part of.


"Craig was keen to get some work experience under his belt and he's been really helpful. He gets stuck in straight away, doing all sorts of things. We love that he's working with us so we can show him a few things - he's a real asset to the team."


During his most recent spell on the streets which lasted seven months, Craig, finally decided to accept the help and accommodation that was being offered to him by the Council's outreach team. In March he moved into the Rough Sleeper Project which provided him with his own self-contained flat and then three months later he moved into a more permanent home, all the time taking advantage of the council's support services designed to help him get his life back on track.


As part of Craig's journey, he has been working with the city's new multi-disciplinary team, part of the Council's outreach services, which targets individuals trapped in the cycle of homelessness and seeks to address the underlying problems that lead to negative outcomes, such as eviction from accommodation, abandoned placements or a return to prison.


The new team includes a substance misuse worker, mental health social worker, additional homeless nurse, counsellor, peer mentors, therapeutic outreach worker, advocate and diversionary activities officer.


Since being set up earlier this year, interventions by the team have had a considerable impact on the success of supported accommodation placements, with 78% of referrals to the team resulting in a positive outcome, such as the prevention of an eviction. Figures for 2018/19 show that 50% of all placements that year ended negatively.


Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities, Cllr Lynda Thorne, said: "It's absolutely fantastic to hear Craig's story and how he is a working hard to turn his life around.


"Helping people experiencing homelessness is about so much more than providing a place to stay. We're working very hard to help people off the streets and to address the issues that led to their homelessness in the first place so that when they come into services, they're supported to stay off the streets for good.


"Our multi-disciplinary team is having a very positive impact by providing a tailored and holistic approach to people's often very complex support needs. Diversionary activities have also been a resounding success with around 15 to 20 people coming along each day and we're very grateful to the businesses and organisations in the city who are helping is deliver these activities."


On six days a week at various locations, the Outreach Team organise coffee mornings, arts therapy, music workshops, gardening projects and more which provide people experiencing homelessness with a safe place to get together, socialise and meet with members of the multi-disciplinary team to discuss their support needs in an informal setting.