“It broke me” – this is just one of the heart-breaking testimonies that highlight the devastating impact that being turned away from homelessness support has, as shown in the stories featured in a new report from Crisis.

This is from Jake, who is in his early 30s, and became homeless after he lost the accommodation that he had through his work. Despite having nowhere else to go, he was told by his local council that because he wasn’t classed as being in ‘priority need’, they couldn’t help him.

Jake spent months last year relying on the kindness of friends and family, unpacking and repacking a bag as he moved from sofa to sofa. The lack of security he felt without a home impacted on his mental health, and meant he was unable to find work.

Like Jake, if you’re homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, in Wales your first port of call for support should be to your local council. But, thousands of people in desperate situations - often people who are forced to sleep on the streets or to drift from sofa to sofa - are still left out of the vital support they need to leave homelessness behind for good.

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In the last six years, almost 10,000 people across Wales have been refused homelessness support by their local council. This is because they don't pass the 'legal tests' that are deemed necessary to access help.

Often only those in the ‘priority need’ category, which include people with dependent children, or those who have a local connection to the area are able to get help – criteria that mean many get left out.

While Welsh homelessness policy has come a long way over the past decade - with the landmark Housing Act of 2014 making sure councils take action to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, and to help people out of it when it does - it isn't working for everyone.

Our research tells the stories of people who have fallen through the gaps in the current system. We’ve spoken to individuals who were left without anywhere to go, forced onto the streets or into unsuitable or unsafe accommodation which often exacerbated mental health problems, debt and substance misuse.

The Welsh Government, it should be said, has shown real commitment to improving the situation for people facing homelessness. In my role as chair of the Homelessness Action Group, I was pleased to see them accept all our recommendations which set out how we can end homelessness once and for all across Wales.

The government also committed to publishing an action plan detailing exactly how that will happen, and there’s agreement among political parties in Wales about tackling the root causes of homelessness, such as a shortage of affordable homes.

Over the past year, government focus has rightly shifted to helping the people most at risk from the pandemic, including people forced to sleep on our streets.

More than 7,000 people in Wales have been provided with temporary accommodation to keep safe since March last year, and current figures tell us that there are now as few as 59 people sleeping on Welsh streets, since records began in 2015.

Over this period, the Welsh Government instructed councils to lift legal restrictions to support as, in this public health emergency, homelessness was recognised to be a risk to life and it was vital that no one was shut off from support.

These figures are nothing short of remarkable and show us just what is possible when the political will is there and councils have the resources to act. Crucially, it demonstrates the progress that can be made when barriers to support are removed.

We must not let this progress slip – the time is right for a change in the law to ensure no one who is facing homelessness in Wales is left without the support they need to have somewhere safe and secure to call home.

With support from Crisis, fortunately things have really turned around for Jake. He’s in a new home, he’s working and is doing really well.

One of the key things about his experience is that if he’d sought help just weeks later, he’d have been able to access support under the emergency measures brought in because of the pandemic. We must learn from this, and we must remove barriers to support – otherwise we cannot and will not end homelessness in Wales.

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As the economic impact of the pandemic continues to ripple across society, and with the number of people in temporary accommodation in Wales at its highest level since 2015, those efforts throughout the pandemic must not be forgotten. The commitment to ensuring that no one will be forced out of emergency accommodation and back on to our streets, or into unsafe accommodation is exactly right - it’s this that we need to build on.

In the lead up to the Senedd elections, we need all political parties to commit to taking the success of the emergency response forward by committing to removing the legal tests so that no one has to experience what Jake has.

You can support the Crisis campaign here.

Jon Sparkes is chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis.

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