As artist Katherine Holmes’ hauntingly beautiful portraits of people experiencing homelessness in Cardiff looked on from the walls of the Bevan Tent, activist and actor Michael Sheen took to the stage to chair the opening debate of the tournament.
As very much the public face of this 17th Homeless World Cup, Sheen immediately underlined his commitment would be greater than the event’s seven days in Bute Park.
“When I became involved with the tournament,” he explained, “I wanted to see if we could go beyond that and see what the Homeless World Cup could do afterwards.”
“Homelessness is not one individual thing. It’s about the pressure people experience in their lives.
“It’s essential that the voices of the people at the forefront of this—the homeless and those at the sharp end—that these are the voices which are heard.”
To that end, the ‘Small nation, big ambition to end homelessness’ opening debate, which teamed Sheen with Jon Sparkes (Chief Executive of Crisis, a national charity for homeless) and Katie Dalton (Director of Cymorth Cymru, the representative body for providers of homelessness and housing-related support services in Wales) hit the ground running.
After summarising the current situation in Wales—“Last year 11,000 households in Wales were threatened with homelessness and there are 12,000 [people] homeless”—Sparkes outlined the aims of his organisation’s 50th anniversary plan: to reduce risk in the first instance; to provide enough affordable housing; and to provide support to all involved.
“Should the governments of Wales, Scotland, and the United Kingdom wake up tomorrow morning and decide to put homelessness at the top of their agendas, we can say ‘Here’s the instruction manual,’” he concluded.
Meanwhile, Dalton is focusing the energies of her organisation, at this time, around how to leave a lasting impact via the ‘Play Your Part’ campaign.
“We’re encouraging people to take action,” she enthused. “If everyone takes an action, it really could lead to change. Things like showing compassion to people on the streets. It costs nothing, just a moment of your time.”
Other actions include learning more, being better informed and educating others, and tackling leaders to make the change.
“We’ve had a really positive reaction to the campaign,” Dalton continues. “In fact, if you’re feeling a bit down about the state of our country just now, go to our website and see the fantastic pledges people have made to play their part!”
A lively Q&A session preceded Sheen’s round-up of events, with the question on everyone’s lips: “Is it possible to end homelessness in Wales?” he concluded.
Over to Sparkes. “I think it is. Look at Finland, a similar-sized country. They only have one hostel left in the entire country and homelessness has nearly been eradicated. Here we’re talking about 11,000. We ought to be able to tackle something as small. It’s a huge problem to those involved, yes, but it has to be doable.”
Words: Isobel Irvine
Images: Isobel Irvine