Tents illustrate the stark reality of homelessness

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THIS shocking picture shows the stark reality of homeless people living in tents in Portsmouth city centre.

The group were camped in Commercial Road until the council forced them to move on.

The tents in Lake Road

The tents in Lake Road

Now they have made their home in Lake Road opposite the Painters Arms.

Homelessness charity The Society of St James has engaged with more than 1,000 rough sleepers since November 2016 – providing many with accommodation and counselling for substance misuse.

Jane Smith, operations director, said: ‘We are aware of the people in Commercial Road. One of our aims is to increase our housing stock in Portsmouth so we can offer long-term accommodation to people who have been engaged with the service and are now fully in recovery.’

But some homeless people, like 53-year-old Johnny Charles, say they are happy on the street.

Johnny said: ‘I became homeless when the missus wanted a younger man – I didn’t mind. My lifestyle is banging and I am as free as a bird.’

The camp is part of a growing problem as figures show the number of homeless individuals on the city’s streets has more than doubled in the past six years.

Some residents have been sympathetic towards the group’s presence, while others said it was damaging the city’s reputation.

Taxi driver Lorraine Fooks, 48, who operates from Commercial Road, said: ‘We’ve lost about 50 per cent of our work from this, it’s absolutely dire.’

While Charisma Webster, 31, owner of nearby firm Vapour Room Portsmouth, said: ‘I think it’s important they’re given the right help. I have sympathy for people in that situation, however it is affecting my business and I just hope the council can help both parties.’

Shopper Carla Seaton, 42, added: ‘If they’re left there, how is that helping the situation for both them or us?’

In response to the debacle, a spokesperson for Portsmouth City Council said: ‘We’re tackling this issue in two ways. We’re working with the people camping there and encouraging them to take up the various services on offer, including housing support.

‘We’re also responding to the concerns of nearby businesses by issuing a notice telling the people in the camp that they must stop obstructing the highway.’

Last year, The News supported the city’s rough sleepers with its Show Them You Care This Christmas campaign.

Readers and local churches rallied together for the effort, which provided meals and gifts for the city’s homeless.

Next mnoth churches will unite to try to tackle homelessness.

Regional scheme Churches Homeless Action will stage an open awareness event at Portsea, allowing visitors to speak to agencies and charities which support the city’s rough sleepers.

Carole Damper, chief executive of The Roberts Centre and Elaine Bastable, housing options manager at Portsmouth City Council, will give keynote addresses, while Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan and Councillor Paul Godier will appear on a panel.

The event, organised by Ms Damper and Revd Canon Bob White, will take place on Saturday, September 23 between 9.30am and 12.30pm at St Mary’s Church, Fratton Road.