Street Football Wales (SFW) has been taking a team to the Homeless World Cup (HWC) since the inaugural tournament in 2003.
Every year, without fail, there will be questions asked about one or more of our players and their eligibility. The criteria set by the homeless world cup is that players must be homeless or have been homeless in the last 12 months (24 months if also in drug / alcohol rehabilitation) or make their living as a street paper vendor.
At SFW we have a lot of teams in our league programmes made up of players currently living in hostels or people sleeping rough and accessing homelessness services. We also have a lot of players living in temporary supported housing or refuge; sofa surfing; sleeping on floors in other people’s houses and living in unsafe accommodation.
All of these situations mean that people are eligible to play for a HWC team. Because all of these situations are classed as homelessness.
If you are reading this knowing that you have somewhere to live where you are free from fear, with privacy when needed and are not at imminent risk of having to leave, then you have at least two crucial basic human needs met – those of shelter and safety.
For too many people, these are basic needs that they are still aiming for, yet which they often minimise or overlook, because they aren’t actually ‘on the streets’.
The HWC is coming to Cardiff in July this year and the tournament shines a light on homelessness, presenting people experiencing homelessness to the world as footballers – providing respite from the label of ‘homeless person’. And with this comes a much-needed reality check for the wider community and (hopefully) a reduction in the stigma and negative judgement around homelessness.
As a key partner, SFW is keen not only to share in the positive messages around how we can address homelessness locally, but also to raise awareness of the spectrum of homelessness that exists. To do this, we will (as we always do) select teams representative of this entire spectrum – Our Dragons and Warriors will be people currently or recently sleeping rough; living in hostels or hospitals; care leavers living in temporary supported housing; those who are sofa surfing and/or living in unsafe accommodation.
We really want to get the message out there that homelessness takes many forms and that no matter what ‘type’ of homelessness someone is faced with, their experiences and the challenges that go with it are valid.
There are a lot of ‘hidden homeless’ people in education, in work, volunteering and even playing sport professionally, with no one around them aware of what they’re going through. Too afraid or embarrassed to ask for help, a lot of ‘hidden homeless’ people won’t even consider themselves to be in need, because they have a roof over their head where they sleep at night.
I’ve linked a couple of articles below which highlight some of the less ‘typical’ experiences of homelessness, as well as the kind of experience that we might feel more familiar or comfortable acknowledging. It’s incredibly brave to open up and share such a vulnerable experience with the world and I have a lot of respect for people who have shared their experience to raise awareness and/or potentially help others going through something similar.*
Here’s hoping that the HWC coming to Cardiff will help shed light on the scale of the problem that exists, that we can influence policy in Wales, and that people experiencing all forms of homelessness feel less alone and more able to access support to address their situation.
*I also have a lot of respect for those who choose not to share their experiences – it’s just that I’m talking here about those who have.