Episode 1 Swansea: Living on the Streets


Episode 1

Hard-hitting series on homelessness. Adam escapes the violence of the city's streets by sleeping rough in the woods, and Georgihka hopes to make ends meet by selling the Big Issue.


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Transcript


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This programme contains strong language.

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Sleeping rough is becoming a reality for more and more people in Wales.

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The number of homeless are on the increase,

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and now they exceed 10,000.

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I never though this would happen to me. Never.

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I wanted to discover why people became homeless,

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how they manage to survive,

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and why the largest numbers of homeless people are found here in Swansea.

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For some, the only option is to try and survive on the streets.

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If you're strong minded, then you can do it.

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If you're not strong minded, then the only thing you'll end up doing is,

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you'll end up in a box.

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And following the lives of those with nowhere else to go

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would prove to be an upsetting story.

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Filmed over three months in the run-up to Christmas,

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the toughest time of the year for the homeless,

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this is the reality of living on Swansea's streets.

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There's no simple reason as to why Swansea has become a magnet for homeless people.

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They come from across Britain, from the surrounding valleys, and even from other countries.

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Big Issue, please?

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Thank you, lady.

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In the summer, many sleep on the beach,

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but in winter, it's a different story.

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The hostels fill up

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and those left out on the streets find shelter wherever they can.

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The lucky ones stay with friends,

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but they are just one step away from being on the streets.

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I met Gavin. He was staying at a friend's, or "sofa surfing",

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but he's just been told that his time's up on their sofa.

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It come to a head where she said, right, I've had enough.

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I want him out.

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My mate said, look, I'm sorry,

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there's nothing I can do about it,

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she wears the pants, you've got to go, you know?

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Gavin's 32 and first became homeless six months ago.

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After a family breakdown, he was out on the streets.

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He was living in Maesteg,

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but soon realised he'd be better off in Swansea.

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The town where I'm originally from, it's just a very small town,

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and if I was to... I was homeless over there,

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but there's nothing over there, there's no facilities,

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there's no soup runs, there's no soup kitchens.

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There's nowhere you can go for help.

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There's nothing. Basically,

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you're on the streets, and you are stuck on the streets.

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You know, I must walk around here at least 30, 40 times a day,

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round and round.

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You know, choosing different routes.

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During the winter, homeless people not only walk the streets to keep warm,

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but also to avoid the attention of the police

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who constantly move them on.

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Once the town empties,

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Gavin's on the lookout for something to make his night a little more comfortable.

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They're rubbish, mate, are they? They're rubbish?

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And he's chosen to return to one of his favourite spots,

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an alleyway between two shops.

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I've no doubt I'll be joined by a gang of others,

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because this is where a lot of people come, especially in the rain.

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Gather under the shelter by here.

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How much sleep do you think you'll get, Gavin?

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Two to three hours.

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Maybe four.

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Depending on the wind and the rain,

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and I've got a bust sleeping bag, which doesn't help very much.

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And that's me down for the night.

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Sleeping rough is dangerous,

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and I'd heard stories of homeless people being urinated on by drunks, kicked, and even worse.

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Last year, a news report shocked the people of Swansea -

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a murder of a homeless person right in the heart of the city.

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Very quiet, especially opposite the supermarket when it's shut.

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Alan, one of Swansea's long-term homeless, showed me where it happened.

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Basically, there was two people involved in, um, in beating him up.

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He got punched, stamped on, kicked.

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And the scarf he was wearing he was strangled with.

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As far as I know.

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Well, apparently there was blood all over the walls, it was everywhere.

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He wasn't even 30. He was only about 26.

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And, um, after he passed away

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there were flowers all down here,

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on the wall, there, opposite, where the church is.

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Unfortunately, it doesn't matter how many flowers you put down, it's not going to bring him back. You know?

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I'd heard that violence, drugs, and alcohol

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had led to the deaths on the streets of five people over the last three years.

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I'd seen a guy cycling, who I was told was living rough.

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I love my bike, I go everywhere on it.

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It goes everywhere with me. It gets me from A to B.

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I can ride from one end of Swansea to the other in half an hour.

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Plus with this trailer thing I've got on the back, I've got something.

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With a bike, it's easy to get away from the dangers of living on the city streets.

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Most homeless people, they're just happy with a shop doorway,

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or an archway or somewhere.

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You get arrested, you meet the wrong people,

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you start doing the wrong things.

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You end up on a downward spiral, and, you know, there's no way out.

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I followed him westward, towards The Mumbles.

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I feel calmer down here, because I know there's no idiots,

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nobody drunk, nobody on drugs.

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That's why I like this place.

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Adam grew up on the other side of Swansea Bay, in Port Talbot.

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Now, he's living just beside one of Swansea's most affluent suburbs.

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I've been homeless in Swansea twice, and came here both times.

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Last time before that I was homeless, I was living in Cardiff,

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and that was ten years ago.

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It was Christmas time that I was on the street, then.

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What's nice about living out here?

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I can do pretty much what I want when I want, and how I want,

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so, that's me, I'm happy.

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Adam's well and truly off the beaten track.

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The advantage is, no-one will bother him here.

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I could have just been to the gym.

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There's my tent, campfire,

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and my stash of wood.

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I'm happy.

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Adam is more resourceful than most,

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and doesn't have to rely on charity for a hot meal or a drink.

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Were you ever in the Boy Scouts?

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-No.

-So, where have you learnt all this from?

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Ray Mears and Bear Grylls.

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Three weeks ago, Adam had a roof over his head,

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but a falling out with a housemate resulted in a fight.

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And he ended up in trouble with the law.

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Adam is a loner. He finds it difficult to live together with others,

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and when he has to, it all too often ends up in rows and disagreements.

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Because of the way people perceive me, what they want,

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and what they need, they're the ones that are creating violence.

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'I don't want to get into trouble.

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'Having something like that forced on me,

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'I've got to, literally, knock them out or jump on them then ponder everything.

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'Then I end up in court, in prison, and paying fines,

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'and doing community service.

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'But that's not me, I hate being violent.'

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Adam knows only too well the realities of rough sleeping.

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Last time I was homeless during the winter,

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I didn't have the tent. I was sleeping in shop doorways, car parks,

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lifts, people's houses, couch surfing.

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And it's not an enjoyable experience.

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What's the prospects of the weather for the next month or so?

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Dismal.

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Finally got the fire going, so things are looking up.

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Whether or not I can keep it going all night, though,

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that's a different story.

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I'm going to get all my stuff together

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and get in the tent before I get bloody soaked.

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Again.

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Cheers.

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Two miles away in the city centre,

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it's harder for rough sleepers to find shelter in bad weather.

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They don't care about the homeless people over here,

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they only care about the rich.

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Tracy is homeless

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and she's heading for an underpass.

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Tracy is not the first Irish person to step off the ferry from Cork

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and end up living on Swansea's streets.

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I first noticed her four weeks ago.

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When the weather was warmer, she was sleeping rough close to the beach,

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but now she's had enough of the colder nights.

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First thing this morning,

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Tracy joined other rough sleepers at the Access Point,

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a Swansea charity who have been helping the homeless for the last 15 years.

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Each day, they allocate Swansea's one and only emergency bed for the night

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to the homeless person most in need,

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and Tracy's put her name down for it.

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She's in competition with three others.

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At 12.30 each day, the staff decide who gets the bed.

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-All right, Trace?

-All right.

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Right, you didn't get the bed today.

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-You all right?

-Yeah.

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Keep trying tomorrow, all right? Right.

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-I can't.

-You what?

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It's a big disappointment for Tracy,

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who has spent three days with nowhere else to sleep but the streets.

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But then, luckily,

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there's an immediate turnaround in Tracy's fortunes.

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Good news, now, you've got the bed.

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The person who we went to give the bed to has turned it down,

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so you've got it tonight. Six o'clock, OK?

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-Yes, thanks very much.

-Wasn't me, it was them.

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-Thanks very much, pet, ta.

-No problem.

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From the start, Tracy's had a tough time in Swansea.

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When she arrived, she was with her boyfriend.

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But after a fight, he promptly abandoned her.

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What she revealed next didn't surprise me,

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and wasn't untypical of Swansea's life on the streets.

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This is my habit, and I'm not afraid to open the thing and drink it.

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This has been my habit since a young age, since I've been nine.

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I've been drinking at a very young age,

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and I've been fighting it,

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so I'm not ashamed to show people that I am a drinker.

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I'll get done for this, for opening a can and drinking it,

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but it's just a habit I have.

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I drank when I was young,

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but then I started going out with a fella who was an alcoholic.

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He got me on the drink. I was turning into an alcoholic then.

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I went on the drink more heavier.

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Since then, it's the fighting. I'll come off it for a while,

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then I'm back on it, off it and back on it.

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It's hard to beat, an illness,

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because a drinking problem is an illness,

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and I'm not going to hide it and say I don't have a habit.

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It's just an illness.

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Tracy's family have no idea she's living on the streets.

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My family ignore me now.

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And she's not the only outsider who is separated from her family.

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Big Issue, please? Thank you.

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Swansea seems to attract migrants from everywhere.

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The most recent arrivals are those from Romania,

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who come here in search of a better life.

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Many of them sell The Big Issue to help them towards getting a better job.

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Georghika followed in the footsteps of others who came to Swansea.

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And he's been selling the magazine three years. He's homeless,

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but he's not down and out.

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So you make everybody happy?

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Yes, happy, yes, yes.

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He buys each magazine for a pound and sells them on for two.

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Two pounds, please.

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Money, coffee, money, tea, a new magazine, tea, coffee,

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very good people in Swansea.

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Thank you very much.

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What he lacks as a linguist he makes up for with his charm.

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Yes, bye-bye, lady.

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What was your job in Romania?

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Um...

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Coal mining.

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HE COUGHS

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He was telling me he was a coal miner.

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I had to find out more, so I found someone who could translate.

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But what were conditions like in a Romanian coal mine?

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HE SPEAKS IN ROMANIAN

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He himself was the machine.

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There were lots of accidents.

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HE SPEAKS IN ROMANIAN

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Most of the accidents that happened in the mine were deadly.

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The mine closed and there were no other jobs in Romania.

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So Georghika came here.

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Big Issue, please?

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Selling the magazine is hard going,

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and he doesn't make anywhere near enough money

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to pay for a permanent place to live.

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Good, have a nice day.

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But actually, Georghika prefers this to the life back home.

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A couple of days later, I ran into him again on the high street.

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He was in a different mood, and wanted me to follow him.

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But I didn't know why.

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-Georghika?

-Yes.

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-Where are we going?

-Um...sleeping.

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No house, no money, homeless.

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Off the main street, right next to a block of flats,

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we came to a fence, beyond which there is a small pavilion.

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It was here that he used to sleep.

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-How long?

-Six months.

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-You sleep there?

-Yes.

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HE SPEAKS ROMANIAN

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He'd sneak in, climb over the fence,

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and disappear in the morning before anyone found out.

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This bench was his bed, sheltered from the rain,

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but still exposed to the cold.

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So, where was he staying now?

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A friend gave him this key after he'd vacated his flat and left town.

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But the trouble is, neither of them are paying the rent,

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so Georghika is squatting.

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The next day, I asked Georghika if I could visit him.

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He would like to welcome you in his room,

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but he doesn't want to have problem with the city and county of Swansea,

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because they might kick him out of the room,

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so he will be homeless again.

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Even now, when he will go to the room, he might find the room closed.

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But he will have troubles.

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And he doesn't want to sleep in winter outside.

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It will only be a matter of time before his luck runs out

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and he's out on the streets again.

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As winter approaches, it plays on the minds of those I met sleeping out,

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and as it gets colder,

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even the most hardened rough sleepers

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make a more determined effort to find somewhere indoors.

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On the outskirts of Swansea, Adam is still camping out.

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It's 7.00am.

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How was your night, Adam?

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Bloody terrible.

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What is that noise?

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You're kind of roughing it, but not when it comes to your dental hygiene?

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No, you've got to look after your teeth.

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When I'm homeless, there is no point lazing around in bed,

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because you miss everything.

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And you don't get a place sorted.

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It's getting colder, and Adam has to find somewhere to live,

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but his options are limited. He's unemployed,

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he's serving a community service order and paying off a fine,

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so there's no money left to pay the deposit on a room.

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Undeterred, he sets off to see

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if there's a landlord who can offer a deal he can afford.

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Close to Swansea city centre,

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almost every day, the homeless wait for a free meal offered by one of the charities.

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Mother Teresa's Sisters of Mercy have set up a mission here.

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There are four sisters who are dedicated to helping the homeless,

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but there are conditions attached.

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..Glorifying and praising God.

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The mission has 12 hostel beds, but the nuns have rules.

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You have to be in by five o'clock,

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and you can only get a place if you give up alcohol.

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Sister Vinedha gives one of them a blanket.

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She is the best lady in the world.

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She gives us dinners,

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and if I wish, in my own sweet way,

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I'd get a bed.

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If you are sober, I will give you a bed.

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Timothy is one of Swansea's long-term homeless

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and his life is dominated by drink.

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Don't worry, be happy,

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cos if you're not happy, I won't be happy.

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It's unlikely that he will ever overcome his addiction.

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After just one hour without a drink,

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I'd seen Timothy become ill with the shakes.

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And I hate doing that.

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Timothy came here 15 years ago from Belfast,

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after falling in love with a Welsh woman.

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But the relationship broke down.

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Now, the streets of Swansea are his home.

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But just how long had Timothy been homeless?

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Seven... About 20 years.

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20 years. I'm 54 years of age. 20 years.

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And is that nice? I've two daughters.

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One is 27, the fourth of December,

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and one is 20.

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And do you think I enjoy this?

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My life is gone.

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Timothy is living on borrowed time.

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The life expectancy of homeless men is 47.

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And for women, it's even younger, just 43.

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In the late afternoon, I get a surprise call from Tracy.

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She wants to meet.

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She's returned to the tunnel under Swansea train station.

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The last time I saw her was five days ago,

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when she had managed to get the emergency bed.

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But since then, I had no idea what had happened to her.

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And now, she wasn't making much sense.

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She told me that she'd been staying with someone,

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but an argument meant she was now back on the streets.

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This morning, she had gone to the homeless charity

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and tried to get the emergency bed for the night.

0:23:310:23:33

Lighter is not working.

0:23:550:23:56

Swansea's a shithole.

0:23:560:23:59

It's a fucking shithole.

0:23:590:24:01

Back-stabbing bastards, they'll talk about you behind your back

0:24:010:24:04

but don't say it to your face.

0:24:040:24:06

I lost touch with Tracy after this,

0:24:240:24:27

and two weeks later, heard that she'd left Swansea.

0:24:270:24:30

Adam, too, had gone off my radar.

0:24:360:24:39

I even went to his camp

0:24:390:24:41

in an attempt to find out if he'd managed to find somewhere to live.

0:24:410:24:45

Then, out of the blue,

0:24:450:24:46

at a church that has become a drop-in centre for the homeless,

0:24:460:24:50

Adam turns up.

0:24:500:24:52

Happy.

0:24:520:24:53

I've finally got a place. Moved in yesterday.

0:24:540:24:57

Just come to get a cup of tea with my cousin.

0:24:570:25:00

I haven't seen him for about three years.

0:25:000:25:02

Adam can at last strike camp.

0:25:040:25:07

He'd managed to find a landlord who was willing to rent a room

0:25:070:25:10

without having to pay a deposit upfront.

0:25:100:25:13

I didn't want to be in a tent over Christmas, no.

0:25:160:25:21

This is home for me now.

0:25:320:25:35

All my criminal days are behind me now.

0:25:410:25:44

I can't see me going back to the way I was.

0:25:440:25:46

I love my music.

0:25:480:25:50

The whole time that I've been homeless,

0:25:500:25:55

that was what kept me focused.

0:25:550:25:57

So, do you think you're going to be happy here?

0:25:570:25:59

I know I'm going to be happy.

0:25:590:26:01

Any of you two ever heard of Feeder?

0:26:030:26:05

This evening, it's not just the homeless who are on the streets.

0:26:100:26:14

The whole town is out to see Swansea's Christmas parade.

0:26:140:26:19

But how will Timothy react?

0:26:190:26:21

Ffff...

0:26:210:26:23

What do you see?

0:26:240:26:26

I see a lot of people.

0:26:260:26:29

Oh, man, a fierce lot of people.

0:26:290:26:34

And they're waiting for something.

0:26:360:26:39

I shall ask.

0:26:420:26:44

Watch me.

0:26:440:26:46

Excuse me, what are they waiting for?

0:26:460:26:48

The Christmas lights are being switched on, sir.

0:26:480:26:51

Oh. Thank you.

0:26:510:26:52

I love it. Do you know something?

0:26:540:26:58

I love them kids up there,

0:26:580:27:01

because they look... Look what you're seeing.

0:27:010:27:04

You're seeing Wales.

0:27:060:27:07

I am delirious.

0:27:080:27:10

I didn't think it was going to be like this.

0:27:140:27:17

As the evening progresses, Timothy's mood changes,

0:27:200:27:23

and the big moment of switching on the Christmas lights is lost on him.

0:27:230:27:28

I didn't take any notice of them, man.

0:27:300:27:32

Homeless people, do they have Christmas?

0:27:370:27:41

I know I will never have a Christmas sleeping on the streets.

0:27:410:27:48

There are 34 days left until the big day.

0:27:560:27:58

For those on the streets, it's a heart-wrenching countdown,

0:27:580:28:03

a reminder of their broken families,

0:28:030:28:05

and children who they've lost touch with.

0:28:050:28:07

Next time on my journey onto the streets of Swansea...

0:28:100:28:15

Georghika has been kicked out of his flat,

0:28:150:28:18

and now he's sleeping in the park.

0:28:180:28:20

Very cold. Very cold.

0:28:200:28:22

The police crack down on drinking on the streets.

0:28:220:28:25

The way you're going, you'll get arrested!

0:28:250:28:28

Don't have a go at me, it's my daughter's birthday.

0:28:280:28:33

And a drifter turns up, who's been homeless for 30 years.

0:28:330:28:37

I'm feral, you know the word feral? What does that mean?

0:28:370:28:40

Is that a sweater? Fairisle?

0:28:400:28:42

No, it means, when, like, you live off the land.

0:28:420:28:44

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:480:28:52

The first episode of a hard-hitting documentary series on homelessness. Told through extraordinary and compelling personal stories in the run-up to Christmas, a unique insight into the day-to-day life of those living on Swansea's streets. Tracy ends up sleeping in a tunnel under Swansea railway station, Adam escapes the violence of Swansea's streets sleeping rough in the woods and Georgihka tries to make ends meet selling the Big Issue.


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