Exhausted Steve finishes the hot drink a caring passer-by bought him then climbs inside his blue one-man tent.

He winces with pain as he plumps his grubby duvet and lies down, zipping the flap shut behind him

Because in 2017, roofer Steve broke his back in three places falling off a building, and sleeping on a wet, cold street is agony.

“After the fall I lost my job and my home,” he croaks through a sore throat . “I came home to the Rhondda then ended up here on the streets six weeks ago.

“I went to a hostel one night but got pick-pocketed while I was sleeping and the place was full of druggies.

"The second time I had night terrors and a member of staff woke me up by slapping me, hard. So I feel safer here.

“But it’s bloody miserable. I just want my own place again, to get back on my feet.”

Steve is just one of dozens of tent dwellers living in the centre of Cardiff who reveal the complexity of Britain’s rough-sleeping crisis.

There were some 26,000 homeless people in Wales last year – a rise of 3% in 12 months – with 4,547 in the capital.

But the number of rough sleepers in Cardiff doubled in three years, to around 70.

Last month a Tory councillor was suspended, though later reinstated, for demanding their tents be “torn down” as they were harming local businesses.

And since “tentgate” made headlines, even more people have appeared under canvas on the city’s streets.

But Cardiff has some of the best homeless services in the UK, with hundreds of places in council and charity-run hostels and outreach teams offering support.

Every night there are least 16 surplus bed spaces.

So why does anyone need to sleep in a tent or doorway?

Rough sleepers say they feel safety on the streets and maintain their independence.

Charities blame the lack of social housing, rent increases, welfare reforms and the Universal Credit debacle – along with an “explosion” in spice use and substance addiction in Cardiff, and an increase in mental health issues.

Those they do help into accommodation cannot always maintain it, leading to what council outreach workers call “a revolving door of homelessness”.

But tent dwellers like Steve dream of having a real front door again.

So does Donna. She and her husband Paul, 52, have been living in a tent in the pedestrian shopping area for three weeks.

They were evicted on Donna’s 49th birthday, when their landlord suddenly sold up.

Paul has recovered from a stroke and a heart attack and beaten bowel cancer, and both he and Donna have mental health issues.

“We’ve been to a hostel, but never again,” she says. “It was filthy; used needles in the shower, people openly taking drugs and robbing each other. It’s no good for you.

“Sleeping in doorways is far too dangerous, so a tent is the best solution.

“It keeps you warm and dry and out of the way of the shop owners trying to make a living.”

She invites me in to her immaculately kept tent. We sit on a brightly coloured patchwork blanket surrounded by all her belongings, lined up neatly or packed in bags.

There is even an air freshener in the corner and a pint of milk keeping cool by the door.

“I take pride in keeping it nice,” she says. “I sweep it all out every day. Everything’s got to be tidy.

“And we’re on a the waiting list for accommodation, so hopefully it won’t be long before we’re out of here. I just want to get back behind my own front door again.”

But for now, like Steve and the other tent dwellers, a zipped-up a flap of canvas will have to do.

Read More

Mirror on the Street – investigation into homelessness

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  • How to help a homeless person in cold
  • Universal Credit causes rough sleeping
  • Kevin Maguire: I helped in a shelter
  • Builder with broken back made homeless
  • Woman lost unborn baby to the cold
  • Flesh eating bugs and despair
  • Premier League star who lived on streets

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