City’s plight compared to Victorian era

Portsmouth's homeless problem is rising - and shelters are struggling to cope
Portsmouth's homeless problem is rising - and shelters are struggling to cope
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DEPRIVATION in Portsmouth has been compared to life in ‘Victorian England’ as new figures show the number of rough sleepers has more than doubled in a year.

The Society of St James, which has taken on looking after some of the most vulnerable in the city, say queues of rough sleepers wait most nights outside its winter night house at Yew House for shelter in a desperate effort to survive.

Carole Damper, chief executive officer at The Roberts Centre

Carole Damper, chief executive officer at The Roberts Centre

Yet the society, which has linked up with the council to try to combat homelessness, warn it’s becoming chaotic, and the behaviour and needs of some are proving too much.

It comes as government statistics reveal the number of recorded rough sleepers in Portsmouth more than doubled from 15 in 2015 to 37 by the end of 2016, which campaigners say demands attention.

Addressing the city’s health, overview and scrutiny panel, Society of St James operations director, Mike Taylor, said: ‘Winter beds is a very, very challenging project.

‘The funding for it is really low.

‘We end up with a row of people outside the front door.

‘The original capacity was 28, but we’ve had to now extend that number to 40.

‘These are really big numbers – you see the people that stand out there with their big sleeping bags.

‘In some ways, it’s like Victorian England.’

Mr Taylor warned poor behaviour is forcing workers to adopt a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach and kick people out onto the street if they’re causing trouble.

He said: ‘If we are having to turn people out onto the streets, that’s a very hard thing for staff to do – but we have got to.

‘We have got to have a zero-tolerance approach to poor behaviour.’

Mr Taylor said many desperate for help are residents aged 30 to 50, migrants who can’t get funding, and heavy drinkers.

The number of homeless people in Fareham has jumped from six to 18, in Gosport it’s gone up from four to six, while in Havant it’s dropped slightly from 10 to eight.

Only two are recorded in East Hampshire’s area.

Carole Damper, chief executive of The Roberts Centre, in Landport, which supports vulnerable families in the area, said there was big cause for concern.

She said some rough sleepers were having to ‘sit on chairs all night’ at Yew House to squeeze everyone in.

She said: ‘In terms of street homelessness, it’s certainly greater than I have seen in the years I have worked in Portsmouth.

‘That’s for a whole raft of reasons.

‘Although we still have shelters and places for people to go to, there are less of them because of funding cuts.

‘It’s to do with places like St James’ downscaling quite a bit, it’s Universal Credit, it’s in some respects to do with changes in Disability Living Allowance, which means people are expected to get back to work and yet they’re not ready.

‘There are a few people whose condition is so chaotic, there isn’t anywhere for them to go.’