Volunteers at Tunbridge Wells Churches Winter Shelter, which opened last night [Tuesday], are preparing for a busy period with the number of homeless rising.
For the seventh straight year, the coalition of churches will provide a space every night until February 28 for 12 people who may otherwise have been on the street.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council [TWBC] told the Times there are, by the latest calculation, 20 rough sleepers in the town. This is a rise from 15 – the figure it has been for the past five years.
During 2016/17, 93 people made applications to be considered homeless and therefore eligible for help with housing. Of those, 47 were accepted compared to 38 out of 72 the year before.
Barry Chaseley, who is this year’s Shelter Manager alongside his wife, Maureen, said: “We have people from all across the board coming in.
“Quite often they have agency work or a full-time job. It is not just people with drug or alcohol problems.”
Maureen added: “Guests often say their rent has gone up and they can no longer afford to live where they are. It only takes the loss of a job, a relationship breakdown or a change in their benefits.
“Homelessness can be exhausting. Many feel unable to relax and take the time to get their heads straight.
“I think there has been a rise in the number of people who are homeless and, although we are new to leadership this year, it has been busier than expected.”
Mr Chaseley said: “Having volunteered here before, I can see it is not the same people coming back and the council is working really hard to help.”
Every night over the period, one of ten churches within the town centre will host the shelter on a rota arrangement.
Guests will also have a meal and help with finding accommodation. Mr Chaseley said the 234 volunteers, split over the 63 nights, provide a warm welcome.
The number of successful applicants is capped because 12 is the highest number all the churches involved can facilitate.
All first-time applicants must visit the council’s walk-in Gateway centre at Fiveways between 9.30am and 12.30pm on weekdays for an assessment and interview. The Winter Shelter team then decide who to allocate the 12 spaces to, based on their situation and proximity to Tunbridge Wells – although the large majority are local.
Shelter Support Worker Julie Russell commented: “The focus is on helping people out of homelessness and turning their lives around.”
TWBC Housing Service Manager Jane Lang said: “We want to end rough sleeping. I know that is a challenge with the numbers, but it is the same nationally.”
She praised the ‘amazing job’ being done by Tunbridge Wells Churches Street Teams and the charity Porchlight in helping to feed, assist and provide advice to the homeless in Tunbridge Wells.