The facts: Harrogate's homeless problem

The visible presence of what some readers have called the '˜shame' of the  town has even prompted one former chain store owner to launch his own charity to set up a new homeless shelter in the town.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 3:44 pm
Updated Friday, 21st December 2018, 3:48 pm
Harrogate Homeless Projects chief executive Liz Hancock (standing at back) with volunteers and staff members Bryn Heapy, Betty-Charlotte Kay, Sophia Morgans, Derek Allan, Linda Fulcher and Alison Hubden.

The visible presence of what some readers have called the ‘shame’ of the town has even prompted one former chain store owner to launch his own charity to set up a new homeless shelter in the town.

If the formidable 92-year-old Mr Brian Greenwood succeeds in turning his vision into a reality, it will be provide one more piece to an already extensive jigsaw of support for the homeless in Harrogate.

Among the hard work being carried out on the issue by the local authorities, charities, the police, churches and a sizable band of unpaid volunteers, one organisation plays a particularly key role.

Harrogate Homeless Project says people sleeping rough in shop doorways is a more complicated picture than it might appear.If anyone should know, it should.

HHP currently runs a hostel providing safe and secure accommodation in Harrogate for up to 16 people as well as the Springboard day services centre run by two part-time employees and a host of incredible volunteers to offer temporary shelter, food and warmth - and professional support and advice.

Harrogate Homeless Project’s chief executive, Liz Hancock says it’s not so much that the problem has increased subtantially, though there is certainly a problem, it’s more that it’s become more visible.And the reason for that is partly the result of shop closures in the high street.

Liz Hancock said: “It’s a complicated situation. In terms of actual homelessness, I think the numbers are fairly static.“When we first launched our ‘No Second Night Out’ campaign in 2012, the figures of people sleeping rough for the previous November were 14. It was seven last month.“It used to be unusual for people to sleep in the town centre. They used to go more to the outskirts or in a park.“Because there are now more empty doorways and closed shops, it’s easier to spend all day there than in the days when the shop was open and trading.“There are more ‘sofa surfers’ these days. It’s easy to confuse people who are begging on the streets but who do have somewhere to sleep, which is bad enough in itself, and who is actually homeless.”

Providing a roof over someone’s head or a warm meal is one thing.Helping people who’ve fallen on hard times and dropped out of the system to rebuild their lives is even more complex.

Harrogate Homeless Project doesn’t passively wait for the problem to come to it. Part of a network of agencies and a community of support groups, it often takes to the streets to find the people most in need of support, especially on nights when winter bites hardest.

Liz Hancock said: “We monitor the number of people sleeping rough in Harrogate and where they are on a weekly basis. We usually know them by name.“If the police or a local church or the council’s parks department will ring us up saying they’ve spotted someone sleeping rough we drop everything and go out to bring them inside, though people used to living that life sometimes need persuading.“We sometimes bring council housing officers along.”

Financed by fundraising, as well as grants, one of Harrogate Homeless Project’s key partners is Harrogate Borough Council.Mike Chambers, the council’s cabinet member for housing and safer communities says the figures show homlessness in Harrogate is a problem but one which is being addressed.

He said: “On November 21, the council carried out its annual rough sleeper estimate and identified seven individuals sleeping rough. “During the first two quarters of 2018/2019, the Housing Options Team prevented homelessness in 68% of the 163 households who approached the council for assistance and relieved homelessness on 31% of the 113 households who approached for assistance who were actually homeless. “There are currently 49 households in temporary accommodation. “

Like Harrogate Homeless Project, Harrogate Borough Council itself works in close co-operation with other specialist support agencies to not only help the homeless but to offer hope of it never happening in the first place.One initiative is Young People’s Pathway. This

scheme provides specialist advice for 16- 25 year olds at risk of homelessness and access to supported accommodation for two years to provide an opportunity for young people to develop the independent living skills they need.