In cities and parks, beneath underpasses and on wasteland, clusters of tents have sprung up around Britain.

They offer refuge to the desperate and destitute and a sense of safety in areas where lone sleepers are vulnerable to abuse and attack.

Their residents are there for many reasons – but there are few who do not dream of a home of their own. 

#mirroronthestreet

It’s like a mini-festival site, 18 multi-coloured tents, many the flimsy type used by children as toys, line the edge of a gravel car park.

But there is nothing festive about Leeds’ Tent City, a sad community of people including some driven there by the “devil” of Universal Credit .

Heroin addict Tony, 41, said he’s spent three weeks camping out after being driven from his flat by three teens.

“I thought they were going to kill me, I put a gate on my door but the council made me take it off. So I left and came here.“

He is leaving after his hand swelled so much with cold that he couldn’t move it and his dog Tyson began to gnaw himself in distress.

The car park where homeless have set up makeshift tents (Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
Homeless men in ‘Tent City,’ near Little Queen Street, Leeds (Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

In the tent next door to where Tony’s had been someone shouts: “I’ll talk to you when I’ve changed my dressing. I’ve been here the longest.

“I’ve been on the streets since June 2017.”

He explains how he has a flesh-eating bug and his partner is in hospital with septic arthritis .

“It’s because of our living conditions and the cold,” he said. “I’ve got an ulcer on my leg. It’s a nightmare living here, you have them smoking spice and getting drunk, taking smack. I hate it here.”

A homeless man with his injured dog Tyson (Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
Mirror on the Street demands an end to homelessness (Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
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Security worker David Hedley created the ‘humanitarian camp” 10 days ago. So far he’s managed to get the council’s attention and 15 people have been found accommodation.

Universal Credit is driving homelessness, he says. As claimants get money directly rent isn’t paid.

“People are getting all the benefits paid to them rather than the rent going to housing or private landlords. So people are getting Universal Credit, buying something they like and then obviously they’re in rent arrears.

The situation is dire for many rough sleepers in Leeds (Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

“We have had people dying in the streets.”

Jay Haywood, who runs Homeless Leeds, said: “Universal credit is the devil behind it all.

“Many homeless people have addictions and their addictions come first.”

Leeds is far from the only tent city in Britain, providing temporary refuge for the desperate and destitute who have nowhere else to go.

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

Last month a Tory councillor was suspected, though later reinstated, for demanding 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.

Donna dreams of having a front door again. She and her husband Paul, 52, have been living in a tent in the pedestrian shopping area for three weeks.

(Image: Rowan Griffiths)
(Image: Rowan Griffiths)

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.”

Steve also lives in a tent in Cardiff city centre. A builder by trade, he broke his back in three places falling from a building in 2017. Sleeping on a wet, cold street is agony.

Steve lost his job and now sleeps in a tent in Cardiff (Image: Rowan Griffiths)

“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.”

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 Creditdebacle – along with an “explosion” in spice use and substance addiction in Cardiff, and an increase in mental health issues.

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