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‘I was homeless two years ago now I’m running for my local council’

Luke Richards (Pic: Luke Richards)

“You sit there and you just think what have I done with my life, because all the liberties that people take for granted, that they can come and go from their house as they see fit, mine had been stripped away and all I had done was lost where I was living.”

These were the words of would be county borough councillor Luke Richards, a former homeless resident of Bridgend who is now running as an independent candidate in a by-election for the Aberkenfig ward, following the resignation of former councillor Ellie Richards.

Like many others across Wales, Luke found himself facing difficult times after the covid pandemic, forcing him to lose his job as well as being evicted from his home.

It was a situation that led the former medical delivery driver to staying in a HMO’s across the borough, as well as spending four months in emergency accommodation in Porthcawl’s Atlantic Hotel, a time he now recalls as one of the most difficult of his life.

However, after turning his life around, Luke, 46, is now running for a place as a member of the local authority, and says he hopes his personal experience with homelessness will allow him to help others who have found themselves in a similar position.

Speaking with the Local Democracy Service Luke said: “I was homeless for thirteen months between May of 2022 and June 2023. I remember the first day I was put in the Atlantic hotel in Porthcawl, and I was given this sheet that says you have a curfew of 10 o’clock, you cannot have family or friends come visit, and you cannot drink or smoke.

“I sat there and I just cried because I felt like I was coming out of prison, but I hadn’t, I’d just been evicted. It felt like I was on parole or on licence having to abide by all these rules, and it does create an atmosphere that’s stifling to mental health.

“It all started for me in the time before the pandemic when I became unemployed. I ended up breaking my foot walking home from work, and because my main job was a zero hour contract they gave it to someone else. By the time my foot was fixed, the pandemic hit and jobs were much harder to come by.

“I was evicted from my house in May of 2022 so I applied for the housing register in Bridgend. It was hard because the money I was getting in housing benefits didn’t come anywhere close to what a one bedroom flat would be, so looking for private rental was not an option.

“For the first two weeks I was given a place in the Court Colman hotel, then the Ed Sheeran concert came to Wales and I was told there was nowhere for me to stay because all the accommodation had been booked up, so I stayed on a friends sofa for ten days. The council wanted to move me to Swansea from there but as I have to be closer for my son that wasn’t really an option and I was put in the Atlantic hotel in June of 2022 for four months.

“After the contract ended I was given a place in a house in multiple occupation in Cornelly. That was hard as you adjust to living with three people, then someone leaves and you have to start the whole process again.

“Again we had these strict curfews and even though my son would walk past the house every couple of days he wasn’t even allowed to knock on my door, which was very difficult for me. Even if I wanted to spend the night looking after my him, I would need to get permission from the council which made me feel like a criminal.”

Luke went on to describe the feeling of desperation felt by him and many others in living in emergency accommodation at this time, adding that the situation with homelessness right across Wales is only getting worse.

He said: “You sit there and you just think what have I done with my life, because all the liberties that people take for granted, that they can come and go from their house as they see fit, mine had been stripped away and all I had done was lost where I was living.

“Now more than ever I think more and more people are closer to that with the cost of living and council tax going up, and having been through it I’m sure my experiences could help.”

Luke is now starting his campaign for election just months after reports that Bridgend Council is facing an unprecedented increase in homelessness- with people waiting on the common housing register increasing significantly over the past four years, with a total of 2,629 applicants as of July 2023, and an increase of more than 200% in new applicants since 2019.

He added: “I’ve been a community councillor on Coity Higher and Ynysawdre community council for a number of years, and I see the difference we can make with much less resources, so with being on the county borough council I think could make much more of a difference.

“I’ve got children living in the county and if I can make life better for them and others who live here that would be great. I’m running based on a few things. Education is one because with these current cuts, last year of 2% and this year a proposed 5%, it could have a devastating effect for the children in the county.

“I’m also running to help improve the homeless system that’s currently in Bridgend. Having experienced it and been through it, it is lacking when it comes to communication and I know I can help with some of the smaller details in the process that make such a big difference to people.”

Cllr Steven Bletsoe is an independent councillor for Bridgend Central and said he had a huge amount of respect for what Luke had been through over the past few years. He said: “I have known Luke for over 7 years and saw him when he was at his lowest, during the time he was living in temporary accommodation.

“I saw people trying to help him through those times and was amazed, but not surprised that Luke’s priorities was the wellbeing of others around him, who were going through the same circumstances. I have a huge amount of respect for the fortitude Luke has shown over the last few years and his desire to help others.”

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