“I might be in a bad place now, but I won’t be in a bad place forever”

Visitors to the event at Bute Park won’t have missed the big purple bus at the entrance with purple be-vested volunteers handing out information about The Wallich, one of Wales’ leading homeless charities.

Helping deliver a chat, a cup of tea or a sandwich is a very recent recruit to the team, 27-year-old Jordan who was, up until a few days ago, sleeping rough on the streets of Cardiff. How he got there, how he got here, starts in 2014 …

“My parents owned a travelling fairground. I worked in the business and in 2014 we were moving to a different site. They were in the car in front with my sister and I was driving behind them,” he recalls. “Then there was a huge car accident and they were killed.

“I had to pull my mum out of the car—I saw that she had passed away. I had to pull my dad out of the car—I knew that he was dead. I pulled my sister out of the car and saw that she was really seriously injured. She’s paralysed and is in 24-hour care.”

Grieving and in a daze, Jordan sold what he could of the family business to ensure continued care of his sister.

Not knowing which way to turn, and suffering from a long-term health condition, he decided, “I’ll go to Cardiff, it’s a big city, I’ll get some help there. But the council said that because I didn’t have any local connections I wasn’t a priority. Even though I suffered from epilepsy—I have fits nearly every day. So I ended up sleeping in a doorway in St Mary’ Street in Cardiff.”

Having been one of Cardiff’s homeless community ever since, Jordan can more than empathise with many of the visitors to the big purple bus, other lost souls who make their homes in Cardiff’s alleys and beneath its bridges and those competing here at Bute Park.

“I’ve been punched, I’ve been kicked, I’ve been spat at. I’ve had pint glasses thrown at me, with drink in them. I’ve had people calling me bad names—you tramp, you scumbag, get a job. I don’t beg for money—never. If someone wants to give me money, then I appreciate that but I never ask for it. I want to work, I want to do things.

“So when I saw the stuff going up last week in the park, that Homeless World Cup was coming here I thought why don’t I go down? I saw The Wallich charity were here and asked them if I could help them and they’ve let me volunteer with them and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

In addition to helping hand out hundreds of leaflets and booklets (more of that later) Jordan has made many new friends, “and it’s keeping me away from the users in the streets.

“I met a guy called Michael Sheen and he gave me his jacket, which he signed for me. I’m also wearing a Wallich vest while I’m here and I’ve been round all the countries playing here and they’ve signed it. Then on the back I’ve asked people to write their opinions about the homeless. Then me and Michael, on Saturday, are going to auction it off to raise money for The Wallich.”

Through volunteering his services, Jordan’s life is turning round in other ways, too, with The Wallich helping him get off the streets and get accommodation at Cardiff University during the tournament. His daily life has turned 180 in seven days, as he adds:

“Usually, when I get my benefits, I get the megabus, and I just go to a different place for a few days. I’ve been to Glasgow, to Blackpool, and Scarborough. Just to get away, to get out of things here.

“I haven’t seen my sister since the accident because it hurts me. Half of me thinks what’s the point in seeing her because she won’t remember me. She can’t feed herself, she can’t do anything for herself. But the other half of me is saying she’s your sister, you love her. I want to go and see her but it’s breaking me.”

Given all that Jordan has been through in the last few years, it’s not only laudable that he’s volunteering here but staggering that he’s remained so positive.

“That’s because nothing lasts forever,” he replies. “I might be in a bad place now, but I won’t be in a bad place forever. You can only look up. I’ve got a big tattoo on the side of my leg and it says: The sky is the limit. You can only think positive and act positive, and stay away from drugs, which is what I do.

“Helping The Wallich and speaking to all the different countries, different people is making me feel a lot better in myself because I feel proud because I’m helping people. Some of the homeless guys have come here and I’ve made them coffees, given them sandwiches that have been donated. That makes me feel better because I know how they feel.

“I do look ahead, to what the future might hold. I do have my ambitions—I’ve worked as a chef before. My ambitions are to get a job, get a flat and save up to get my credit score up, then get a house and find a girl and make my own family. Then life can carry on.”

The booklet Jordan and his purple-vested colleagues have been handing out this week, The Rough Guide to Sleeping Rough—Marky’s Legacy, is a publication close to the heart of all those involved with The Wallich.

In 2009 the organisation partnered with a client of theirs, Mark ‘Marky’ Quinn, who had slept rough for two years in Cardiff city centre—who had, in fact, spent a lot of time sleeping under a bush in Bute Park itself. Quinn became homeless—he was having trouble with other tenants in his block—so he was classed as intentionally homeless and found it difficult to find support. He stayed at The Wallich night shelter in Cardiff until they found him something more permanent. He then moved on from homelessness and moved on with his life.

Quinn wanted to give back to the organisations who had helped him and support other people who were on the streets, so he wrote The Rough Guide to Sleeping Rough. He included advice that those who hadn’t experienced homelessness maybe wouldn’t think of, and that’s what the organisation loved about his work. The booklet was first published in 2009 with some funding The Wallich had obtained.

Earlier in 2019, Quinn passed away. He was 47 when he died, which is the age most rough sleepers pass away. People who sleep rough have a much lower life expectancy.

To honour his memory, and be a legacy of the event, the organisation updated and re-published the booklet—pocket-sized, water-proof, and tear-proof. “Mark Quinn loved football, so desperately wanted to help everyone in his situation and he would have enjoyed this event so much,” say The Wallich.

Watch out for the purple bus, Marky’s guide and Jordan—and his friend Michael—doing a very special fundraiser on Saturday.

Words: Isobel Irvine
Images: Daniel Lipinski / Soda-Visual and Mile 44