Rough sleepers in Preston will have a new place they can stay every night during the winter months after Preston City Council agreed to establish a facility that will be open whatever the weather.Advertisement
National rules require local authorities to provide accommodation when the temperature is forecast to drop below freezing point for three consecutive nights.
However, Preston has been allocated extra government funding because of the number of people identified as being homeless in the city this year. During October – the most recent month for which figures are available – 72 people were spotted sleeping rough on Preston’s streets.
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The new shelter is currently based in a church hall in the city, which is being advertised amongst the homeless community while a more permanent location is sought for the council-run service. There is space for 15 people, who will be provided with camp beds and storage.
As the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed in August, the 14-bed emergency accommodation already provided by Preston charity The Foxton Centre is full almost every night.
The organisation’s chief executive officer, Jeff Marsh, welcomed the additional capacity that the new facility will bring, but added that the country needed to do something to tackle the root causes of homelessness – and not just apply “sticking plaster solutions” to the problem.
“The biggest problem is that there’s just not enough accommodation in the city for all sorts of people. I’d like to see people have proper homes to live in, not resort to having to sleep on the floor of a church building.
“It’s a nightmare to try to find somewhere proper to live – we haven’t got enough social housing and private sector accommodation is massively under pressure. If you’re on housing benefit, you’re probably not going to be able to pay the price that [private sector landlords] are asking,” Jeff explained.
He was speaking shortly before The Foxton Centre hosted more than 50 homeless people for Christmas dinner. While he stressed that rough sleeping was a year-round issue, Jeff said that those without a roof over their head inevitably “feel it” more at Christmas and new year.
“There are lots of broken family relationships – people might well not be able to go home to family and it just brings it all to the fore again, having nothing. It’s a tough time for people in terms of mental health – there [can be] lots of regrets and [a risk of] people and turning to alcohol or whatever,” Jeff added.
The Foxton Centre is currently seeing around 140 people a month use its services, which include providing breakfasts and access to showers and clothes, as well as chiropody and hairdressing services.
The new council shelter will require individuals to be referred to it via the authority’s outreach team. Those accepted will be able to use the facility from 5pm until 9am, seven days a week.
Drug and alcohol services will make regular drop-ins, while those staying there will also be able to be seen by a nurse and access mental health support.
A survey carried out amongst Preston’s rough sleepers in 2022 highlighted a gap in facilities for people who are not ready to access permanent accommodation, but need somewhere where they can be safe at night, have meals and look after their personal care.
The shelter is being funded with £200,000 in additional targeted government funding to combat homelessness in Preston across 2023/24 and 2024/25, as well as £106,000 from a pot designed to help people off the streets or prevent them from ending up there in the first place. An additional £97,000 will come from a reserve fund held by the city council.
The recent town hall meeting at which the spending was agreed by councillors heard concerns had been raised about the “communal” nature of the shelter, with men and women both sharing the same space.
Conservative opposition group leader Sue Whittam said that it would be better if “individual pods” could be provided where people would “have their own privacy”. Labour council leader Matthew Brown said that the authority was looking at ensuring such a solution was “built in”.
The facility will be staffed with a mixture of permanent and casual staff, along with volunteers. Nobody will ever work on the site alone.
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