SOUTHEND’S homeless crisis is being worsened by London boroughs using the town as a “dumping ground” for rough sleepers, say councillors.

The concerns come as private firm Winns Security have been brought in to patrol Southend bus station in Chichester Road from 6am to 10pm to stop rough sleepers “partying” there.

The indignation of passengers left out in the cold because Southend’s bus shelter was full of booze-swilling rough sleepers finally prompted the council to take the drastic action.

Over the last year the Echo has also reported residents’ concerns about homeless people pitching tents on Southend beaches and cliffs.

The council took a tough stance and moved them on. With the now added expense of bringing in guards for the bus station, its clear the problem is costing the council money it can ill afford.

So what is causing the increasing numbers of rough sleepers to gravitate towards Southend?

Councillors believe London boroughs are offloading homeless people on our town and have accused them of treating Southend like a “dumping ground.”

There is evidence to back this up and James Moyies, councillor responsible for health and adult social care, has called for an inquiry into just how many are landing our doorstep from London boroughs.

Mr Moyies said if the investigation found there were particular London boroughs behind the problem, the council wouldn’t hesitate to take strong action.

He said: “We have a duty to help people but we would look at how long we should provide that help. We could take an authority to court. I know of one council which has already done this.

“If a London council gives someone a £15 ticket to Southend and that becomes a tens of thousands of pounds problem for us they are not doing their duty.”

The town has a plethora of voluntary organisations who help the homeless with clothes and food along with the well established homeless charity Harp which provides accommodation for those left without a roof over the head.

Churches across the town also provide winter nightshelters to ensure no one has to brave a cold night outside.

In addition, the council plays a vital role in supporting both the homeless and charities in the town which includes social workers and street teams.

With so much help and support dedicated volunteer it is hard to understand why there continues to be growing numbers of rough sleepers in the town.

However, one councillor believes the huge amount of help available in the town might actually be helping to fuel the problem, with food and clothing readily available to a hard core of rough sleepers who refuse help.

Martin Terry, who ordered council officers to deal with the bus station problem or shut it down prior to the guards being brought in, said: “There are two-way pressures on homeless people. On the one hand you have the voluntary sector with the overnight centres doing all they can with all means available. Then there is the St Mungoes charity going round to assist the street teams to encourage people to use the night shelters and to try and start them on a different path. You’ve got to break the cycle of substance abuse and alcoholism in order to rejoin society. There are also other health issues so it can be very difficult.

“Then there is the other side where there is a cohort of people to whom offering this kind of help is counterproductive.”

Referring to the large numbers of food charities manned by kind-hearted residents, Mr Terry added: “Offering food and sustenance on the street is almost supporting that lifestyle. I’m not saying they should stop but their needs to be more co-ordination between people providing meals and the council. They need to talk to a lot more to the council rather than just handing people food and sustenance in order to be part of the process of trying to get people off the streets.”

Homeless people have been taking over bus shelter Mr Moyies said the council does meet with a number of Southend charities but he said: “There is a worry that the number of charities and the amount of support available could become a magnet for people. That’s why I have asked the head of adult social care to investigate who is being helped and why they are here in Southend and who is local so we can get a real picture.

“We are being used as a dumping ground and there are people coming here because of better services but we need to find out the extent of it so we can manage it.

“All our local charities are helping and doing their best but there is this issue that if things are better somewhere else they can become a magnet. We need to find out how strong that pull is.”



Southend bus station - a refuge for the homeless


Southend's biggest homeless charity offers a range of help

HARP is Southend’s most established homeless charity, offering help to people with a wide range of problems.

It works closely with Southend Council in its aim to eventually end rough sleeping in the town.

Gill Garwood, chief executive of the charity which runs the Bradbury Centre in York Road, Southend, said: “We work closely with street outreach groups to engage with people and encourage them to come to our Bradbury Centre where they can speak with a staff member and access support, help and guidance.

“On average, our rough sleeper breakfast serves between 25 to 30 people a day, and is open to anyone sleeping rough in Southend. Additionally, our Monday ReFocus group offers practical support and advice to people who have made the choice to effect a positive change in their lives.”

There are signs this support is having an effect.

Ms Garwood added: “Our most recent statistics show that we assisted 100 long-term rough sleepers in the 12 months from April 2014 to March 2015. Of those, 51 are no longer on the streets.

“Some have returned to living independently in the local community, others housed in one of our 50 units of accommodation for those with complex needs, and some have decided to leave Southend altogether.”

Ms Garwood said the charity didn’t believe the help it gives attracts homeless people to the town from London boroughs.

She said: “Our statistics do not show any overwhelming evidence of this. We can say that of the 900 people helped by HARP between April and November 2015, just 3 per cent were long-term rough sleepers from outside Southend.

“Only two of those people were from a London borough. These figures are, of course, dependent on people presenting themselves to our service, and we are not aware of where a person comes from prior to them coming to us for help.”

She added: “We see many people who are at risk of homelessness, or are new to homelessness, through a variety of reasons such as loss of job or the breakdown of a relationship.

“We assist them while they are considering the options available to them in Southend, and they may, ultimately, choose to return to their home area without ever having slept on the street in Southend.”

SOME of the charities offering a wide range of help to the homeless in Southend

Homeless Action Resource Partnership HARP - Southend largest and most established homeless charity St Mungo’s helps people who are sleeping rough across South Essex including Southend, Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford and Thurrock.

The nine local authorities of Southend-on-Sea, Basildon, Brentwood, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Epping Forest, Harlow, Rochford and Thurrock have commissioned the service to improve outcomes for single homeless people across the region.

Last year's annual rough sleeper estimate reported 19 people were sleeping rough in Southend-on-Sea alone. From recent referrals via the national referral line StreetLink, about 38 people were estimated to be sleeping rough across the South Essex area.

Street Spirit Southend - volunteers provide food, blankets, clothing and toiletries and friendship to those who need it. They meet in Clarence Road car park at 8pm every Saturday night to give out hot food.

Warrior Soup Kitchen - operates each week, Monday and Friday, from around 7pm in the Warrior Square area of Southend.

Southend Salvation Army Citadel in Alexendra Street - runs drop in sessions through the week.

Southend Nightshelters - Seven churches open their doors during the winter on a rota basis each week where homeless people referred to them by charities like Harp and St Mungoes can stay for the night

Southend Vineyard church’s Storehouse project which helps feed the homeless and vulnerable

57 West a new church which has project helping Southend Homeless.