For many years Wrexham town centre’s Capel y Groes (Chapel of the Cross) had problems with rough sleepers bedding down in their porch and grounds. Members of the congregation were being forced to step over sleeping bodies as they left and entered the church; children were picking up needles discarded in the grounds.
The problem got so bad, the caretaker one day turned up to find one a rough sleeper lying dead in the porch. The local St John’s hostel didn’t accommodate those with drug or alcohol addictions. Something had to be done.
The congregation didn’t just want to move people on; instead they were keen to find a sustainable solution.
In October 2005, they approached TCC for help, and became members. TCC held an assembly around the issue, where church goers and former local homeless people described their experiences. Extensive research was carried out, and it was decided to create a permanent emergency night shelter in the town. A coalition of local businesses, church leaders, police, Welsh Assembly members, housing associations and councillors was formed to work together to create the shelter.
Wrexham Council donated a building, and Clwyd Alyn Housing was asked to run the facility. Just over a year after Capel y Groes first joined TCC, the temporary shelter was opened in Winter 2006. But the celebrations were short-lived. The council decided the shelter was becoming too expensive and in April 2007, it was closed. Undeterred, the coalition – led by Capel y Groes – continued to fight for a permanent shelter.
After 12 months of frustrating negotiations, Clwyd Alyn eventually won the council tender. A permanent emergency night shelter, Ty Nôs, was finally opened December 12, 2008.
Menna Davies, is a retired Welsh teacher from Wrecsam and member of the Capel y Groes congregation and TCC. As the homelessness issue worsened, Menna persuaded her church that they needed to work with TCC. She played a central role in the campaign to get a permanent night shelter established.
Since then, she has become an active volunteer with the town’s homeless.
“One Sunday morning, the caretaker came to open up for the service and there was a person who had died in the porch. It was upsetting really, for everybody involved.
“We were saying, ‘we have to do something about this’, but we didn't just want to phone the police and get them sent on to somewhere else, because they'd only become a problem to somebody else. And they would still be homeless.
“We had lots and lots of meetings, and we had a big 'assembly,' TCC call it. We had a person who'd been homeless on the streets of Wrexham, who'd got himself a business, and who'd got himself back together again. He was able to help us and tell his story, which was really good.
“When the council came on board, things really started happening. We opened this temporary hostel, volunteers collected clothes, and it worked really well. But the hostel had to close in April. They said it was too expensive to keep it open.
“Local housing associations had to put a tender in, and this took well over 12 months. We were really frustrated at the time because we wanted to get this permanent shelter ready for the winter for them.
“It was difficult to get a place because we had opposition from the local residents. We were really committed to it, but at times, you didn't seem to be getting anywhere, even though we had different agencies working together, and co-operation was really good.
“It does take a long time to get these things and you've just got to be determined and carry on.
“It was really, really exciting when the permanent shelter opened. And we haven't just got the shelter and forgotten about them. Volunteers make hot meals, and we're trying to get a day centre.
“It's really good how well things are going. We try to encourage them, and it's good to hear of people who started off in the shelter, who have now got their own flat. You feel that you've helped them, as well as helping ourselves.”