Rough sleepers on increase as shelter opens

Homelessness is on the rise: Photo by Monkey Business Images / Rex Features (1939160a)
Homelessness is on the rise: Photo by Monkey Business Images / Rex Features (1939160a)

Rough sleeping in Lancaster has increased threefold over the past few months as the city’s homeless charity gears up for its annual Christmas shelter.

Lancaster and District Homeless Action Services (LDHAS) has been providing a Christmas shelter in the city for many years.

It opens on Christmas Eve at 9pm and closes on December 29 at 1.30pm, giving homeless people some respite over the festive period.

But centre manager Gary Welsh said that this year, the shelter has to move back to St Thomas’s Church due to an increase in those in need.

He said: “For the past two years, we’ve held the night shelter at the day centre in Edward Street, but this year we’ve had to take it back to St Thomas’s because the numbers have gone up by a factor of three.

“Our H2H Project – where we’ve been helping get people a home, was working well, but the numbers have just crept up and up over the last three months.”

A recent count found six people sleeping outside in Lancaster, despite the Christ Church Homeless Shelter being open.

“What we’ve found is a lot of people who have been incarcerated and are coming out of prison and there doesn’t seem to be anything for them,” Gary said.

“From what I can see we’ve probably had two or three people who have come back into the exact same situation.

“As a homeless centre we’re known for dealing with entrenched rough sleepers.

“But people are coming into the centre with serious financial trouble.

“There are people using our services who are struggling to access benefits, or those who have been sanctioned. I’m not sure how people who come to our centre manage with the benefits they receive.

“The sanctions are extreme for missed appointments.”

Gary said the shelter is designed to help those who aren’t going to have the usual Christmas we are all used to.

“It’s designed to help people who are on the edge of society and give them a bit of a lift.

“We will provide meals, some entertainment, a TV, people to talk to, and somewhere to sleep and things to sleep in.

“Throughout the day we will let in people who are struggling with benefits and people who are living in housing poverty as well.”

St Thomas’s Church is situated in Marton Street, opposite Lancaster police station.