Cold and homeless - the misery must end

Winter housing provision Swindon  09/01/19

So here we are in the depths of the British winter; January to me always seems like a bleak month and if you're anything like me, you welcome getting into the dry and warmth of your own home after braving the bitter elements.

But I am reminded constantly that not everyone is that fortunate - there are many hundreds of homeless people who don't have that comfort to go to.  It's not even a luxury - it's a basic human right - however in our civilized country many are sleeping rough.

I spend some of my time volunteering at the Filling Station charity in Swindon which helps the homeless by giving them food and other provisions to make their lives a bit easier.  I come across hundreds of homeless people during my time with the charity and I know that sleeping rough and not having a warm place of safety to go to is one of the worse things for anyone.

That's why I am always pleased to support homeless schemes like Swindon Borough Council's recent Temporary Winter Housing Provision.

The scheme, which is based next to the Swindon Ambulance Station on Queens Drive in the former Riverside School, gives an identified group of homeless people, who've struggled to engage with the Council in the past, a warm bed and shelter as well as personal support to help them move from rough sleeping into permanent accommodation.

The provision opened in December and runs until April, and a day centre called The Haven will also be based at the building for the next three years and run by the homeless charity Swindon Night Shelter.  The Haven will act as a first point of contact for rough sleepers to access vital services such as mental health provision and drug and alcohol support - all things which can lead into homelessness.  

I visited the Temporary Winter Housing Provision yesterday evening (08/01) with Cllr Cathy Martyn (pictured) and the Mayor of Swindon Cllr Junab Ali.  I met a few of the dedicated volunteers and was given a tour of the facilities for those who use the building. 

I was impressed - this is helping but much more still needs to be done across Swindon and Wiltshire.

The Filling Station always goes out during the Thursday evening between Christmas and New Year.  In my 15 years of doing this we rarely get customers, however, this Christmas we gave out hot soup and sandwiches to 22 people.  

Clearly, something is wrong - the need by the homeless was not met at a time when usually most are catered for by local charities offering a warm, temporary shelter and hot meal.   We'll have to review the provision on offer in Swindon to see if we need to do more.

One person needing food and a warm, dry bed is one too many.  We need to try and reduce the number of rough sleepers on our streets full stop.