Help for the homeless

PLUMMETING temperatures have meant busy times for organisations and willing volunteers across North Devon who are offering lifelines to those put in crisis by the conditions and facing Christmas with little to cheer them.

Shelter, a hot meal, warm clothing or just the warmth of somewhere safe and someone to talk with are the invitations by these groups to the homeless and the lonely.

District councils have a duty to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers if the temperature falls below freezing on three consecutive nights and are working with Freedom Social Projects to provide emergency accommodation in these circumstances.

Rough sleepers can seek refuge at the Freedom Centre in Howard Avenue overnight with a warm breakfast in the morning for as long as the cold weather lasts.

In the present cold spell up to nine or 10 people a night have been taking this up.

Those who use this service are offered an assessment of need and can be linked into assistance from other local agencies to help them move away from rough sleeping and in to stable accommodation.

North Devon Council’s Lead Member for Housing, Councillor Brian Moores, said: “Even though we do not have a large amount of people sleeping rough on the streets in North Devon, we aim to do all we can to help those who are. With the recent freezing conditions North Devon has been experiencing, the accommodation is welcome relief and can mean the difference between life and death.”

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Rough sleepers can access this emergency accommodation between 8pm and 10pm. After 10pm they can gain entry by a referral from the police, hospital or the council’s out of hours team.

In addition to the emergency shelter, the Freedom Centre runs a regular daytime drop-in from 12noon to 4pm Monday to Friday and 60 to 80 vulnerable people of all kinds have been making use of the provision each day.

The centre receives in excess of 13,000 visits each year from more than 1,000 different people and provides over 30,000 interventions of help and support in response. Food, clothing, showers, laundry and a gym are just a few of the services on offer daily as well as essential access to telephone and internet usage.

Barnstaple Poverty Action Group also offers food, clothing and bedding from its headquarters in the Parish Rooms in the centre of Barnstaple, on a Tuesday from 9.30am.

Its members actively look for rough sleepers and welcome reports from the public so it can extend a helping hand, including access to food, supplies and health services

As well as responding in a crisis, BPAG also provides help and advice to people in a wider range of difficult circumstances, such as those struggling to meet fuel bills – increasing this year – concerned about benefit changes and housing and young people in the 16-18 age group.

It works closely with housing providers, the Social Services and other agencies to provide a range of potential avenues of help.

Holy Trinity Church in Barnstaple is providing hot meals at its drop-ins on Fridays and Saturdays from 11am to 1pm, but will not be doing so on Christmas Day.

Barnstaple Salvation Army will be providing a Christmas Day lunch at its headquarters in Oakleigh Road from 12.30pm. This is open to the homeless, the elderly, the lonely and anyone in poverty, but should be booked in advance through BPAG, Age Concern or the Freedom Centre.

The Ilfracombe corps provides ‘soup kitchens’ each Tuesday and Friday from 9.30am at its base at Torrs Park and will this year also be providing Boxing Day lunch from 12.30pm.

Cllr Gaye Tabor, Lead Member for Homelessness at Torridge District Council, said: “Torridge District Council is working closely with North Devon Council, the Freedom Centre and the Harbour Centre in Bideford over the provision for rough sleepers in both districts during the cold spell. Our out-of-hours standby emergency officers are also aware of what to do should they be contacted by a rough sleeper.”

The Harbour Centre in Queen Street provides a drop-in from 10am to 1pm Monday to Thursday each week, providing hot food, clothes and the chance of supplies such as washing kit, tents and sleeping bags. It has been catering for an average of 35 people a day – and has more than 200 members on its books!

The Harbour Centre will be open on Christmas Day for three hours to provide a cold Christmas lunch and assures a warm welcome for those who are lonely, on the streets or disassociated from their families.

Bideford Parish Church holds a Friday diner, providing hot food between 11.45am and 1.30pm.

These charitable groups rely on the help of volunteers and the generosity of the public to continue their work and during the current busy time would welcome donations of all kinds - non-perishable food, clothing, money etc.

The Harbour Centre is particularly in need of portable camping stoves and gas canisters. While giving out tents and sleeping bags, a stove to warm a tin of soup would make all the difference, explained Elaine Arrowsmith, one of its seven trustees. While this was a particular need at present, nothing would go to waste, she assured.

Contact The Freedom Centre on (01271) 321171, Barnstaple Poverty Action Group on (01271) 371499 and The Harbour Centre on (01237) 423891. For advice about homelessness and housing options call North Devon District Council (01271) 328870 or Torridge District Council on (01237) 428700

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