FEATURE: Northampton charities attempt to keep homeless off the street

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Biting frosts, blustery winds and freezing rain have been the norm in the first two weeks of 2015 in Northampton.

But the service manager of one of the town’s many homeless charities says that despite what many would think of as unthinkably cold conditions, several people still prefer to sleep outside.

Theresa Kelly, of the Northampton Association for the Accommodation of the Single Homeless (NAASH), based in Campbell Street, says overnight accommodation is readily available in the town to those who want it.

But she says all of the town’s charities are faced with the dilemma of reaching those who, for various reasons, still choose to remain outside.

She said: “Some people do choose to rough sleep. They have been offered accommodation and they refuse to take it because it is their lifestyle choice. With some people, that is how they want to live.

“You can’t force people to go into accommodation, but that’s why we do a lot of work with our outreach team to keep an eye on those that are out there.”

If the weather in Northampton drops below zero on three consecutive nights, the borough council and partner homeless agencies will enact the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) whereby an “emergency weather shelter” will be set up to allow rough sleepers to go inside, warm themselves up with a hot drink and sleep for the night if needed.

But in the freezing days between Christmas and New Year’s Day in 2014, which saw the mercury drop to below zero between December 26 and 29, no rough sleepers turned up at either NAASH or the Hope Centre.

A borough council spokesman told the Chronicle & Echo: “Those they connected with were offered shelter and offered blankets and hot drinks but they refused. Staff from NAASH were also on duty at Oasis House both day and night.

“There was provision to bring any person who was vulnerable inside, although the full severe weather shelter was not opened.

“Nobody who our outreach team engaged with wanted to come in. Neither did anyone turn up at Oasis House during the cold spell.”

Homeless figures from the borough council count 19 people as sleeping rough in the town, though, speaking in the summer, Catherine Maryan, of Northampton Hope Centre, said there could be as many as 40.

Ms Kelly said that although the Government-sponsored No Second Night Out scheme NAASH runs is helping to keep the number of rough sleepers down, the issue charities face is how to get the message to those on the streets.

“Some people sleep rough because they don’t understand the system,” she said. “They are not sure what to do and where to go.

“We would say to them just come in and have a cup of tea. We know as soon as we get people to come in to the centre, they are more likely to stay longer.”

Ms Kelly said anyone who sees a person sleeping rough over the winter can contact NAASH or Oasis house to inform them. They can call NAASH on 01604 629804 or the Northampton rough sleeper helpline 0300 5000914.