As Preston awoke to its first snow of winter on January 16, minds were turned to the most vulnerable. The city’s rough sleepers.Advertisement
A cold, amber health alert was put in place by the health agency due to temperatures falling below freezing. Although disruptive for many, it proves fatal for those who have no other choice but to sleep on the streets.
Rock, a companion at Emmaus Preston knows all too well how this feels. He was forced to sleep on the streets seven years ago, during Christmas.
Read more: Big PNE Sleep Out fund total presented to The Foxton Centre
Rock said: “I wanted to cry. Everything was shut and I thought what am I going to do now?
“I stopped at every store, but nowhere was open. It was so quiet. I had to just ride around on my bike, I would get to a place and say where can I go from now?
“It was so cold and my hands felt ten degrees colder.”
Luckily Rock found the help of Emmaus after being recommended by a police officer. He has been there since 2017, working at the charity shops in the city centre and he has even been able to pursue his passion of being a musician.
“Emmaus has given me an abode, a sanctuary, a new hope in life and provided an extension on my life.”
Unfortunately, some people still do not know what help is available and have no other choice but to turn to the streets however, Preston does have plans in place to provide aid and shelter for those struggling.
Preston City Council have had severe weather emergency provision (SWEP) in place since November, when temperatures began to drop, intending to provide shelter when the weather may be life-threatening.
St George’s Church on George’s Road opened its doors to provide 15 emergency beds in partnership with the council, which they will continue to run until the end of March, as demand has been high with the centre being full almost every night.
The people who use the service are referred by the council’s outreach team, who take an assertive approach by talking to people on the street, explaining who they are and how they can get support. They also follow up on reports from the public and provide anything from access to clothing, phones and accommodation.
They aim to encourage more people to come in from the cold weather, however, some may be reluctant.
Mandy Stitt, rough sleeper co-ordinator at Preston City Council said: “This New Year we are looking at extending the service so we could run a tea time and evening session.
“This is aimed at people who may be harder to reach, they don’t have to stay or accept an offer of support.
“It is just a way of reaching out to those who may be reluctant or don’t know how to ask for help.”
Mandy is hoping to assess the demand for emergency beds this March when the council will decide whether to extend the service so it will run all year round, but the struggle is finding another venue to accommodate.
For November, the outreach team came into contact with 71 people in Preston who were claiming to be rough sleeping. The team have noticed that there are a higher amount of men, but the amount of women on the streets is also increasing.
Throughout winter, Mandy also said there is a difference in the makeup of people rough sleeping in the city.
She said: “Summer is a more transient group of people, winter is a bit more static.
“We get rough sleepers travelling from Blackpool, Burnley and Lancaster in Summer.”
“Some of the people who are presenting as homeless now or who are rough sleeping are coming from backgrounds which we wouldn’t usually get because of the cost of living crisis.
“They may have been a hidden group who have just got by, this doesn’t make up a lot of the rough sleeping numbers but they are certainly coming in concerned about becoming homeless.”
The council aren’t the only one who has seen an increase in the number of people rough sleeping in Preston.
The Foxton Centre, a homelessness charity based on Fox Street, provide a 14-bed emergency accommodation which is full almost every night and is open 24/7. Over 140 people a month use the Centre’s services, with access to warm showers and clothes.
The charity knows that winter and the lead-up to Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. A group of volunteers and staff members hosted Christmas Day events for those sleeping rough, with over 100 Christmas dinner meals being given out to people.
Last year, a group raised money for the Foxton Centre, by doing the PNE Big Sleep Out in November. Participants spent a cold, wet and windy night sleeping on the pitch of the PNE football ground but that proved just a glimpse of what life is like for those who have no other choice.
The latest Government figures released in February last year revealed Preston recorded double the number of people sleeping rough on a single night in autumn, compared with 2022.
The data showed Preston had the highest figure in Lancashire. Overall, the snapshot recorded 3069 people rough sleeping in England, up 26% from the previous year. The next snapshot is set to be published in March this year.
Director of homelessness charity, Emmaus Preston, Stephen Buchanan said: “No one should be sleeping on the streets.
“The fact this count shows more than double the number of people sleeping rough on one night in Preston, compared to the previous year, is a stark warning that more needs to be done.
“Looking at these figures amidst the current cost of living crisis, alongside the number of people who are sleeping on sofas and in temporary accommodation who were not shown in the figures today, we predict that sadly many more people will need our help in future.”
With temperatures still dropping, and the coldest months still in sight, it is even more worrying to see these stark figures.
If you see someone sleeping rough the best thing to do is contact ‘StreetLink,’ where Preston’s outreach team will be sent an alert after you fill in a quick form about what you have seen. Other ways to help is an offer of warm clothing, blankets or hot drinks and food.
You can also support your local homelessness charities including The Foxton Centre who work with street sleepers, often experiencing issues with mental health, addiction and poverty. They were one of the first organisations in Preston to take a ‘Housing First’ approach, offering long-term and open-ended support.
Emmaus Preston are another homelessness charity which provides a home, work and support for those in the city. They provide a stable environment and the opportunity for companions to work in the charity shops across Preston.
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