Plans for agencies across Lancaster to work more closely together in a bid to tackle homelessness were backed at a public meeting held this week.
The open forum was set up by the Lancaster Business Improvement District (BID) , following complaints raised by some businesses about an apparent increase in homelessness in the city centre.
It is hoped there will now be further meetings also aimed at identifying initiatives to reduce the amount of homeless people.
Representatives from numerous statutory and voluntary agencies working with homeless people in Lancaster attended the forum on Wednesday at The Apothecary pub, including the city council, police, homeless centre and night shelter.
A BID spokesman had previously said there were concerns that the people sleeping rough were presenting “a poor image of the city” to visitors as well as presenting issues for local businesses.
Mark Cutter, who runs The Apothecary and is also chair of the BID sub-committee, said the forum aimed to bring together agencies in a bid to get a strategy together to tackle the problem.
“We want to support people to get them off the streets,” he said. “There are people in need of assistance that we can help.”
BID development manager Tom Fyson said they had received reports of people sleeping and urinating in shop doorways and intimidating members of the public.
“We are aware that this isn’t only an issue with homeless people and we want everyone to feel safe in the city centre,” he said.
Suzanne Lodge, Lancaster City Council housing officer, said the council had seen a recent increase in complaints from both the public and business people about rough sleeping and begging.
An audit carried out on March 14 showed five people sleeping at Christ Church night shelter and four sleeping rough in Lancaster, as well as two longstanding homeless in Morecambe.
Jan Norbury from Christ Church night shelter said in recent weeks there had been up to 16 people accessing the service, but this has now dropped to around six.
Gary Welsh, centre manager at Lancaster and District Homeless Action Service in Edward Street, said: “I think the number of shops closing down has made it look more obvious that there are homeless people. The benefits sytem, particularly Universal Credit, has had a major impact and that has seen more people begging.”
Sue Widden from the homeless centre agreed: “The new benefits system is particularly unfriendly for homeless people.”
Former homeless man Davey, 23, told the meeting that the rising cost of living means it is likely there will be more homeless in the city in the future.
“I am incredibly grateful to the homeless action service for getting me to the temporary accommodation I have now moved to,” he said.
Barbara Kirkby from The Olive Branch said: “I just feel that so much needs to be done and so much more coordination because I don’t think everybody knows what’s being done in the city.
“This city has a great heart. Anybody can become homeless and we need to show that we have a heart and not make a judgement.”
People with any concerns about a rough sleeper are asked to contact StreetLink on 0300 500 0914 to report concerns. At evenings and weekends you can call Lancaster City Council’s out of hours service on 01524 67099.