The year benefits changes put people on the streets

GOOD WORK: Rev Tim Keightley at Prestons Foxton Centre

GOOD WORK: Rev Tim Keightley at Prestons Foxton Centre

The year 2013 will go down as the crucial date when benefits changes pushed up homelessness in Preston, according to a leading street charity.

The Foxton Centre, which works with displaced people in the city, says numbers without a permanent roof over their heads have increased since the Government’s welfare shake-up in April.

And more are being driven to the brink as alterations to council tax and housing benefit, coupled with the so-called ‘bedroom tax’, cause even greater hardship.

“The number of people coming here is the highest I can remember,” said director Rev Tim Keightley.

“It seems the nation’s austerity drive is particularly affecting those in poorer situations.

“There is evidence that people are struggling to pay their rent arrears – that is becoming a very common 
issue for some people.

“So the fear has got to be that, while the (homeless) situation is bad now, it could get even worse.”

Workers and volunteers at the Foxton Centre in Avenham run a community cafe four days a week where the homeless can get a hot meal for just £1. Around 50 people attend the lunches and can also get valuable support to get their lives back on track.

“Half a dozen, maybe a dozen, of those could be sleeping rough, it’s hard to put a number on it,” said Rev Keightley. “But the problem is much bigger than that because homeless people can also be those who are living in squats, sleeping on someone’s floor, ‘sofa surfing,’ or living in bed and breakfast.

“It’s anyone who doesn’t have a permanent address, a roof over their head to call home – well, not what you or I would call a home.

“I think we do very well in Preston because there are a lot of organisations, churches and agencies working together.

“Here we’ve had the highest number coming to us this year that we’ve ever had. I think the most we’ve had in the cafe has been 76.

“But over the year we have over 230 coming in, all with complex needs, but not all necessarily without a roof over their heads.

“We are extremely proud of the fact that we have helped 56 or 57 into accommodation this year.”

Christmas Day at the Foxton 
Centre will see the homeless enjoy a four-hour party with full turkey 
dinner and presents.

They will also get a buffet lunch on Boxing Day with quizzes and even karaoke. The Waitrose store at Walton-le-Dale has been a generous benefactor.

“Many of our regulars will be here, but some will have made other 
arrangements,” said Rev Keightley.

“We also get some who we only see at Christmas and who maybe feel especially isolated at this time of the year.

“We try to give them all as good a Christmas as we can and there is no shortage of volunteers who want to help out.

“When we started this years ago we had to advertise for volunteers, but now the response is fantastic – we have more than enough. But while everyone tends to think about the homeless at Christmas, it is an all-year-round thing for us. If the gap between the rich and the poor in this country wasn’t getting bigger then I might feel, as some politicians say, we are all in this together. But it seems that the ones who have the least are being affected the most.”

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