Swansea: Back On The Streets - Chris' story

Tagged with:

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.

Tagged with:


More Posts