Rough sleepers who have been camped in All Saints Church in Northampton for nearly three months have been given an eviction notice to help find a more permanent solution.
The Rector at All Saints, Father Oliver Coss, said the notice was not a hostile act but was "designed to accelerate a solution for people who have been at the churchyard for a long period of time".
The notice was served last Thursday, with the support of other agencies including Northampton Borough Council, the Hope Centre and Northamptonshire Police, Father Coss explained.
Father Coss said the site had been monitored for a number of months and while the people living there had mainly moved on after a short period of time, others had stayed longer and it was not safe to continue to do so.
"We have found some groups would stay for a short time, get help and support and move on after six weeks or so. They either ended up somewhere else or accessing help or housing," he said.
"There is a group that has been with us for three months and it was a question of saying, yes, we believe they deserve to be made safe and treated with respect but actually sleeping out is still a risk to life and as an encampment settles down, it needs more intervention."
He said there had been a positive change in the mindset and attitude towards helping the homeless in Northampton and that there was hope for better policy in the future.
Safe campsites, he said, were not a long-term solution. The best alternative was to get them into housing and given access to support services.
While the move has received support on social media, it was criticised by a man who described himself as a former rough sleeper and said evicting them from a place where they feel at home and secure is cruel.
Andy Boddington told the Chronicle & Echo that he had admired All Saints Church for the support given to rough sleepers by allowing them to stay at the churchyard.
"This has been an exemplar of how we can help those who are both down and out," he said.
"Bur All Saints Church now wants to evict those in its encampment. That is unacceptable. They say the rough sleepers have refused council help so they must be evicted. That shows an utter lack of understanding of why people become rough sleepers. Most of the people I have worked with who live outdoors cannot engage with officialdom. If they could do that, they wouldn’t be sleeping on a bench or in a tent.
"Most rough sleepers have significant mental health issues. To evict them from a churchyard where they feel at home and secure is cruel," he said