Wales

Filmmakers Chris Rushton and Tracy Harris followed the desperate plight of Swansea's homeless a year ago. Now they have returned to find out if things have changed.

They wanted to discover how homeless people survive and how the recession and cutbacks are hitting those least able to cope. Chris writes about the unique journey into the unseen world of Swansea's homeless. You can read about Tracy’s experience here.

Right at the beginning I realised I needed to find the right person to work with, to help build relationships with homeless people.

I knew that blokes with cameras can be quite intimidating and I'd seen how well the female staff at one of Swansea's drop-in centres handled aggressive behaviour, so I started to look for a someone who was up for going into tough situations.

I couldn't believe my luck when I met Tracy Harris. She was from Swansea, was gregarious and had the TV experience, but crucially had spent time working in Parc Prison, running writing workshops with inmates.

Chris Rushton and Tracy Harris

The original idea was to make a documentary centred on the St Matthews Church Drop-in Centre run by the Cyrenians. I soon realised that some homeless people never came in. We decided we should try four weeks just trudging the streets to widen the search.

We hardly filmed a thing but the gamble paid off - by the end of the month we knew a dozen or so people who were beginning to see us as friends.

Just before Christmas we found ourselves filming homeless people being moved on by the police for drinking in the city centre. It made the people feel victimised. From then on, many of the street people saw us very much as their film crew, seeing it from their point of view. This was another step toward strengthening our relationship with them.

By the end of our first three months filming, homelessness had got under my skin. Tracy and I had developed such amazing access to people who never normally had a voice. We had to try and get more viewers to see things as we did, so we set off for another three month journey on the streets.

Most of what we saw on the streets was deeply depressing. In the first series we filmed Stevie, who was struggling with addiction and we were shocked when he told us he was thinking about committing a crime just to get a bed in jail.

On our return, a year later, we discovered his life had been transformed. It was such a relief. It was good to know there is a way out of homelessness even for those with addictions. For Stevie, this was through going to a faith-based rehab centre for eight months and becoming a Christian. For me this was far better than the reality which could have meant him dying on the streets.

Emotionally it was challenging and it was the plight of one of those having to sleep rough in the snow that is most deeply etched on my memory.

I was astonished to meet Andy and his 72-year-old dad, Cookie, both living on Swansea's streets. I saw them being moved on by the police, an almost daily occurrence. Their back story has continued to haunt me, how would I have turned out if I had met my father for the very first time in my teens and then discovered he was a homeless alcoholic?

Walking away was even harder to bear. The experience of getting close to those in such desperate circumstances, who have nothing and who every day are struggling to survive, made me think more about my own life and how my priorities have changed. Now I am much more in touch with my emotions.

Swansea: Back On The Streets is on Wednesday 8 May at 10.35pm on BBC One Wales. It is a Mentorn Cymru production for BBC Cymru Wales.

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  • Comment number 10. Posted by chris

    on 17 May 2013 09:21

    Some one has asked me why some of homeless people find it so difficult to help themselves. The vast majority of the homeless I met had been rejected by their families. Stories of abuse in the family and in care when they were children were also common amongst those I met. So many were extremely damaged and had problems trusting people. Mental ill health is also common amongst homeless people, and for those who end up on the streets it's a highly stressful and traumatic experience. I can understand why many turn to alcohol and drugs to blank out the reality of their situation. If you like I were lucky enough to be brought up in a safe secure and loving family, then please try and imagine setting off on life's journey without that grounding.

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by Darren Parry

    on 16 May 2013 20:39

    A great job by Chris Rushton. A very interesting and at times heartbreaking look at some of the homeless. BBC take note, this should go network... not just BBC Wales. Keep up the good work

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by Cyrenians Cymru

    on 16 May 2013 12:50

    A really powerful documentary again, Chris and Tracy!

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by sharon

    on 16 May 2013 10:05

    i just watched last night`s episode, although thought provoking and in some instances very sad, i can`t really feel any empathy for some of them, there`s alot more help out there, than they are saying , they sometimes just don`t want it, what makes them end up on the streets, i mean whats susans history , why do most of them end up on the streets what type of people are they ???

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by Robbyjay

    on 15 May 2013 22:29

    Another look, at the cold hard reality. Of life on our streets, well done guy's for bringing it to everyone's attention and showing the way it really is.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Brian Morgan

    on 10 May 2013 12:29

    I saw the first series. This first one in the new series says it was well worth revisiting, and I'm sure there is better (or worse?) to come. This should be taken to network. Keep it going Chris and Tracy.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by Robbyjay

    on 9 May 2013 18:47

    Watched this programme last night . Really hit home, for me watching these poor people on the streets of Swansea.It bought back a lot of bad memories even though my experience's of homelessness were minimal.

    I still as a youngster, spent many nights walking the streets of my home town. Looking for somewhere to go Because of my actions,through drink and drugs people, just couldn't cope with me.And I know what it's like to feel desperate and vulnerable.

    The only way I used to cope, was to take hard drugs and alcohol, just to block it out. But that used to get me into more trouble.And I usually ended up spending, the night in the local police station..But at least that was warm.

    That is how I used to live, my life and it feels like another life thinking back on it now.

    I really think homelessness should be tackled head on now.It's 2013 and things need to change, that poor man Tim on the programme.Is and old vulnerable man 58 years old, wondering the the streets of Swansea, at night with all the rowdy drunk youngsters!Anything could happen to him.

    We need to address, are own countries problems.Before we start to try to help the rest of the world
    Let's help the people on are own doorstep and stop judging them it can happen to anyone!!

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Stillers

    on 8 May 2013 23:19

    Excellent film making - pulling some important issues and attitudes into to very sharp focus.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by ymorwr

    on 8 May 2013 22:43

    Excellent first programme showing who is paying the real price of austerity. Shame on us all for allowing this. Thanks for covering this so well

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Tom Barker

    on 8 May 2013 22:41

    Great episode, I really enjoyed, can't wait to see the rest of the series!

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