Business group to hold forum on Lancaster homeless

Helen Cleece leads volunteers around the city centre handing out food to the homeless.
Helen Cleece leads volunteers around the city centre handing out food to the homeless.

A Lancaster business group has said an increase in homeless people in the city centre is presenting a poor image for visitors.

Lancaster Business Improvement District (BID) is now hosting an event which aims to tackle the problem and looks at ways of reducing homelessness in the city.

Volunteers including Helen Cleece pictured at the clothes rail before the food handout.

Volunteers including Helen Cleece pictured at the clothes rail before the food handout.

A BID spokesman said the open forum aims to identify the issues and what support already exists while looking at potential future initiatives to reduce the number of homeless people.

The business organisation is encouraging representatives of all statutory and voluntary agencies working with homeless people in Lancaster to attend the event on Wednesday and offer their guidance.

The event is also open to anyone interested in tackling the issue.

A BID spokesman said: “Lancaster BID aims to improve the city centre making it a better to visit, work, invest and do business.

“In recent months we have been aware of an apparent increase in the number of homeless people sleeping and begging on the streets in the city centre.

“This presents a poor image of the city to visitors and can also present issues for local businesses.

“BID is very aware that this is a sensitive issue and that the people involved are potentially very vulnerable and need reliable support to be in place to help them off the streets.

“This event will bring together individuals and organisations with a remit or interest in supporting homeless people in Lancaster.

“It will highlight what support already exists, start discussions around additional initiatives which would be beneficial and consider who is best placed to take a lead on them.”

Paul Cusimano, chair of the Lancaster BID, said “Our event will bring people together to start the process of accurately quantifying the problem as well as looking at collaborative approaches to support the people who are genuinely in need.”

Gary Welsh, centre manager at Lancaster and District Homeless Action Service in Edward Street, said Lancaster is among many towns and cities to have seen an increase in homelessness.

“Unfortunately, Lancaster, like other parts of the country, has seen a big increase in the number of people who are becoming street homeless,” he said.

“A lot of these people have no money because they are claiming a benefit that is not user friendly to homeless people (Universal Credit) which means sanctions of up to three months are given for missing an appointment.

“This has consequences, and one of the consequences is people sitting in doorways begging because Lancaster shoppers are very generous.”

Businessman Ian Bailey from The Runners Centre in King Street said: “The reason there are ‘more’ homeless people around is due to Lancaster having the only shelter to cover a huge area”, since there is no shelter in places such as Kendal and Manchester.

Anna Hopkins, who helped launch the clothes rail initiative which has seen people donating warm clothing to the homeless, said she hopes to attend the meeting.

Anna has also started a food handout event to homeless people in the city centre on Wednesday evenings.

She has been assisted by Helen Cleece, who runs Pret in the Park, as well as other volunteers including some from the homeless centre.

“It is a really good focal point for people to get involved with helping the homeless,” Anna said.

Meanwhile, the clothes rail disappeared overnight on Saturday.

“I have been told that some people had complained about it for being unsightly,” Anna said, “but homelessness can be unsightly unfortunately.”

Anyone who can help can contact Anna through the Lancaster Clothes Rail Facebook page.

The BID event is being held at The Apothecary Bar in Penny Street on March 22 from 2-4pm.

Although it is an open event, BID are asking that people confirm their attendance by emailing info@lancasterbid.org or calling 01524 590650.

Lancaster BID Ltd (Business Improvement District) was set up by the city centre businesses to promote and improve the trading environment in Lancaster.

Lancaster BID aims to make Lancaster a better place to live, work and invest in.