ROUGH sleepers facing spending the festive season in a winter shelter will still have the opportunity to celebrate as charity bosses host a Christmas dinner, show movies and put on arts and crafts activities. 

Vanessa Hemmings, CEO at Southend homelessness charity Harp, has insisted the winter shelter will be more important than ever this year as demand grows, and the cold winter months kick in. 

But the winter shelter, in the old Gainsborough Carpets warehouse, in Chalkwell, is so much more than just a warm place to sleep and a roof above people’s heads. 

Alongside the winter shelter, Harp also runs the Bradbury Day Centre in York Road, and Vanessa insisted the charity goes all out for Christmas to ensure anyone relying on their services can still celebrate. 

Echo: Inside - Harp winter shelterInside - Harp winter shelter (Image: Southend Council)

Ms Hemmings added: “We have decorated everywhere, and we like to go hard at Christmas.

“We’re doing a big rough sleepers’ Christmas dinner on the 22nd, as well as doing fun activities in the run-up to Christmas, such as arts and crafts, and putting on festive movies.”

Echo: Inside - Harp's winter shelterInside - Harp's winter shelter (Image: Harp)

It comes as the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of Southend rose to 16 for the annual count in March- an increase from 10 in 2021.

Ms Hemmings said: “Because the numbers are so high, the winter shelter is now more important than ever because as the cold weather takes its turn, it is lethal to be sleeping outside.

“We know from demand last year that this offer is going to be critical over the colder months.

“We’ve worked quickly with the council to make sure we can meet the rising needs to offer this service during the winter months when it’s really tough for anyone sleeping outside.”


Echo: Plea - Harp CEO Vanessa HemmingsPlea - Harp CEO Vanessa Hemmings (Image: Newsquest)

The shelter is delivered in partnership with Southend Council as part of its severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) support, which outlines how rough sleepers can be placed in accommodation and get support.

Anyone sleeping rough must be verified by the rough sleeping outreach team to be able to access the shelter, which can be sorted through the council for advice and support.

The shelter is open from 7pm till 8.30am where people can sleep on camp beds, as well as use electric blankets.

After 8.30am, people using the shelter are encouraged to visit its Bradbury Day Centre, in York Road, for breakfasts, showers and to access other services.