WORCESTER has one of the highest number of rough sleepers in the country, outside of London, new figures have shown.
Government figures show the city has an estimated 34 people sleeping rough which is only topped by Brighton and Hove and Cornwall – which are both unitary authorities – and the London boroughs of Lewisham, Newham and Westminster.
In comparison, Gloucester and Oxford, which are similar to Worcester in terms of population and location, have an estimated 11 and 12 rough sleepers respectively.
Coun Jabba Riaz, cabinet member for Safer and Stronger Communities, said they were acutely aware that homelessness was on the increase in the city but was surprised by some of the low figures recorded by larger cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol.
The council aims to have no one spend more than one night sleeping rough in the city by the end of 2013.
“Rough sleeping is an urban problem, because there tend to be few facilities in rural areas, so rough sleepers tend to migrate to towns and cities where facilities are available,” he said.
“The estimated figure of 34 people sleeping rough in the city reflects the fact that people from across the county and the wider region come to Worcester for this very reason.”
Homeless charities in Worcester were not surprised by the figure, which Worcester City Council based on the previous year’s street count and feedback from St Paul’s Hostel, Worcester YMCA and Magg’s Day Centre.
Mel Kirk, manager at Magg’s Day Centre, said: “We have seen a large increase in the number of people accessing our services compared to last year, even during summer we saw an increase.
“We are expecting it to continue when new legislation affecting benefits comes into force which will cause difficulties for individuals.” During the first week in January in 2012 the centre was accessed by 30 people however during the same period this year the number had risen to 47 people.
Miss Kirk added: “There are a lot of homeless services here and that is well known. Because Worcester is a smaller city I think people feel safer than sleeping rough in big cities like London.”
As well as those sleeping in the open air the data released by the Department for Communities and Local Government included homeless people living in buildings or places not for habitation such as stairwells, cars and derelict boats.
Kathy Whittall, development team leader at Worcester YMCA, said the Henwick Road hostel was full and the NAC run by St Paul’s Hostel on site was busy each night.
“We’ve noticed with the financial climate at the moment, there are a lot of family breakdowns and pressures on daily life and things are spiralling from there. We are one of only two hostels in Worcester so when we are full it is difficult to know where to direct people.”
Worcester City Council is working in partnership with the other Worcestershire district councils, Herefordshire Council and a range of other organisations, using over £300,000 of Government funding to develop additional services for homeless people.
CASE STUDY: ‘THE HELP IS SO GOOD IN WORCESTER’ A HOMELESS man said he was surprised the number of people sleeping rough in Worcester was not higher.
Chris Stych, aged 45, had been sleeping rough around Worcester Racecourse as well as sofa surfing before using the St Paul’s Night Assessment Centre (NAC) at the start of the year.
Three years ago he was made homeless after his addiction to alcohol caused the breakdown of his marriage.
Mr Stych said: “There are some people you see out on the streets that don’t use St Paul’s, the YMCA or Magg’s Day Centre, I don’t know why.
“But on the whole there is a community between the homeless here and we will try and help one another out if we can.”
He is now involved in photography, IT and budgeting courses through St Alban’s Annexe at Magg’s and hopes to turn his life around.
Mr Stych, who has been sober for more than two years, said: “Homeless people come from Redditch, Kidderminster, Bromsgrove to Worcester because the help is so good here.
“I don’t know what people would do if those kind of services weren’t here.
“Magg’s is a lifeline for an awful lot of people and the people here help to give you a hand in the right direction.
“The courses give you something constructive to do and are a Godsend to be honest.”
FACTFILE l Under the Houseing Act 1996 a local authority must undertake a series of investigations with anyone approaching as homeless to determine what help, advice and assistance can be given.
l A Night Assessment Centre operates from the Worcestershire YMCA between November and February, providing accommodation and support for rough sleepers. The city council also operates a cold weather protocol during periods of prolonged cold weather, under which all homeless people are provided with temporary accommodation regardless of whether or not a statutory homeless duty is owed to them.
l The Mayor of Worcester, Coun Roger Berry, has selected Maggs and St Paul’s Hostel as his nominated mayoral charities this year.
l Members of the public who are concerned about someone rough sleeping can take action to help rough sleepers at streetlink.org.uk or by calling 0300 500 0914.