A Gwynedd teenager said he would be living on the streets if it wasn’t for the help and support of a homelessness charity
Twm (not his real name) is currently living in hostel accommodation supported by the organisation in Blaenau Ffestiniog and attending college studying for his A levels next year.
He hopes to study international business at university if he is successful in the exams.
The 17-year-old spoke candidly during an open day at GISDA’s new Pwllheli hub in Gaol Street.
Twm said: “GISDA have helped me to live independently. I’ve had courses on handling money and eating healthily and I’m doing well at college.
“If it were not for GISDA I’d be on the street.”
The teenager said he is still in contact with his family, with whom his relationship has now improved, and he urged anyone in the same situation as himself to seek the assistance and support of GISDA.
“It’s best to try and sort things out at home first but if that proves impossible then GISDA are here to help. I’m grateful for their help,” he said.
According to GISDA Chief Executive Sian Tomos, homelessness among young people was at “crisis point, not just in Dwyfor or Gwynedd but across the entire country.
She said: “There are lots of young people in hotels, closed pubs and elsewhere where they are living without access to proper facilities to cook their own meals and wash their clothes.
“And it’s not a situation they put up with for a few weeks or months. I’m aware of one young person who has been in this situation for over a year.
“Councils are doing their best but more could be done.”
Established in 1985 to provide support and accommodation for homeless young people in the Gwynedd area (its title originally stood for Grŵp Ieuenctid Sengl Digartref Arfon or Young, Single, Homeless Group of Arfon), GISDA supports young homeless and vulnerable people and their families throughout Gwynedd.
The charity works in partnership with Gwynedd Council and other agencies including housing associations and, as a result, has ongoing projects that can support people in other properties.
In 1989, in partnership with Cymdeithas Tai Eryri (now part of Grŵp Cynefin), GISDA opened its first hostel, called Hafan, in Caernarfon, for eight young people. Since then two more hostels have been opened, both in Blaenau Ffestiniog. GISDA also has two fully-furnished houses in Dolgellau, which are owned by Grŵp Cynefin.
Sian Tomos said the opening of the hub in Pwllheli was a welcome development which would help GISDA assist many more young people.
She explained GISDA had a similar hub in Pwllheli previously. The Penlan Street premises were open for about four years until 2017 when funding issues caused it to be closed.
“Referrals for support are up 25 per in Dwyfor from the previous year.
“Since re-opening we have established a housing support project and so far, 35 young people from Dwyfor have benefitted from it. Weekly drop-in sessions for homeless young people have been started and in May alone 76 visited the hub,” she said.
GISDA’s ICan project, a mental health support programme, is also in operation at Pwllheli and there have been over 100 referrals to the project.
“Pwllheli is an ICan drop-in hub that offers mental health support, weekly wellbeing walks and regular creative sessions,” Sian Tomos said.
She added the Employability Project set-up by GISDA as part of the Department of Work and Pensions Kickstart scheme had partnered with seven employers in the Pwllheli area to place young people in jobs.
So far, the scheme has supported 12 young people with employability skills from Dwyfor – up 90 per cent from the previous year.
GISDA’s LGBTQ+ project has also been introduced at Pwllheli and weekly sessions are held where youngsters can simply meet and chat in a friendly atmosphere. There are 10 registered members from the Dwyfor area.
The new hub, located in the former William Hill bookmakers shop, was secured with financial help from businessman Paul Fahey.
Now semi-retired he wanted to do something to help local youngsters and approached GISDA.
He said: “I’ve spoken with youngsters who have a roof over their heads but live in unsuitable conditions.
“One girl, for instance, is in a hotel room with just a toaster and kettle. No other facilities at all, not even a television.
“I know GISDA have supported accommodation in Caernarfon and Blaenau Ffestiniog but nothing in this area and I wanted to help.”
Mr Fahey said next year he is planning a large scale fund-raising effort to help support the work of GISDA.
Pwllheli Mayor, Cllr Mici Plwm (Michael Lloyd Jones), promised the Town Council’s support in whatever way they can.
He said he and fellow councillor, Deputy Mayor Michael Parry, had been impressed with the work carried out by GISDA and the welcome they had received.
“It would be my dream to see youngsters supported by GISDA make their way just a few hundred yards along the street and join us in the Town Council chamber so that their voice can be heard.
“Another dream is to see Pwllheli establish a hostel to accommodate youngsters supported by GISDA and we, as a Town Council, will support any effort to do that.”
He urged the young people to spread the word about the work of GISDA.
“Tell them about this place, tell them to come here for a chat and a cup of tea. GISDA don’t do shy, the door is always open and a huge welcome awaits,” he said.
The work carried out by GISDA has not gone unnoticed internationally. In recent years GISDA have worked on a project with academics at the university at Lódz in central Poland.
Dr Anna Jarkiewicz, from the Department of Social Pedagogy, said the aim of the project, part of the European Union’s Erasmus programme, was to work with young people at risk of social exclusion.
She was visiting North Wales with Prof Mariusz Granosik and said she was glad to work in partnership with GISDA and colleagues at Bangor University.
“We want to learn from the work being done at GISDA with young people,” she said.