A STREET pastor has revealed there have been six homeless deaths in Southend so far this year - and has defended the large amount of help given to rough sleepers.

Del Thomas was responding to criticism from Independent Thorpe ward councillor Martin Terry, who said the abundance of help for the homeless in the borough might be exacerbating the problem. His comments came after he discovered other councils in Essex were sending the homeless to Southend to take advantage of the care offered there.

Mr Thomas is a street pastor who often helps rough sleepers. He is also on the committee of the Street Spirit soup kitchen and a manager of the Belle Vue winter night shelter.

He said: “I agree wholeheartedly that sending rough sleepers to our town with no local connection is irresponsible because the council struggles to help those with a local connection.

“All of its temporary hostels and Harp’s spaces are full which is leading to an issue. However, I couldn’t disagree further with his comments about stopping the help.

"If the soup kitchens and extra patrols stopped then where will the rough sleepers suddenly be housed? There isn’t enough accommodation and we have already had six deaths connected to the rough sleeping community this year alone and that is before the winter has hit.”

Mr Thomas added: “We have had at least four rough sleepers who have been human trafficked and many more unreported here in Southend.

"Personally I have witnessed rough sleepers spat on, urinated on whilst sleeping and verbally and physically attacked.

“This is not a lifestyle most people choose and with the right help many of those on the street would gladly move off.”

Mr Thomas agreed some are hard to help. He said: “There are one or two long-term rough sleepers who have got so used to life on the street they would prefer to sleep there but I can count those on one hand. It is an horrific lifestyle. We need more mental health support,

“I would strongly argue that the soup kitchens rather than being a hindrance are being a help and have prevented many more deaths on our streets.

"I will always remember one person approached me saying ‘I remember you. I was on the street and you gave me hot drinks, sleeping bags and food. More than that you made me realise I was worth caring for’.”