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My fears for Bromley's hidden homeless

PUBLISHED: 12:02 09 December 2010 | UPDATED: 10:01 10 December 2010

A homeless man rests on his sleeping bag in the street next to a department store in London, England.

A homeless man rests on his sleeping bag in the street next to a department store in London, England.

2010 Getty Images

A charity worker behind the borough's only homeless project has launched an impassioned plea for help in dealing with a "hidden" crisis.

Sandy Greenfield, who runs the 5,000 Project, based in Widmore Road, Bromley, is seeking for more volunteers and funding to help her to open her winter shelter and cater for the rough sleepers struggling to survive in Arctic conditions.

Her appeal shines the spotlight on an unpleasant problem which many who have the power to help struggle to accept.

Ms Greenfield said: “No-one was prepared for the cold snap and this is already a terrible time of year to be out on the streets. I was really sad that we couldn’t open the shelter in time for the snow last week, but I simply cannot run the place on my own.

“I have seen certain characters around but all I can offer them at the moment is a hot drink and something to eat.”

The 5,000 Project, run with the support of Bromley United Reformed Church and others, has offered homeless and vulnerable people fortnightly hot meals for nearly four years and for the last two has run an emergency shelter for Bromley-based rough sleepers over Christmas.

This year Ms Greenfield has brought forward the opening of the 14-bed shelter — in an undisclosed location — from December 20 to next Monday, but says she always wants to do more: “We only have space for people with a Bromley connection. We have air beds this year, duvets and pillows. It is not ideal, and I wish we had somewhere with showers, but at least it is comfortable.

“If we had more volunteers and more cash we would be able to stay open longer.”

Bromley has a number of homeless people. While many are able to “sofa surf” meaning they stay informally with friends and acquaintances others have no choice but to bed down outside in the borough’s parks and shop doorways.

The project estimates that there can be about 30 people, men and women, sleeping rough at any one time.

Chief executive of Bromley council Doug Patterson has written to his staff suggesting they give up some of their spare time to help out at the shelter after he volunteered for night shifts himself last year.

Mr Patterson said: “I was involved very much in a private capacity and it was a great opportunity to help out.

“Sandy is there every night, which is incredible, and the help provided is organised and 
respectable.”

The local authority has an obligation to provide “advice and assistance” to homeless people but is only obliged to find space for people who meet certain criteria, like young people aged 16-18 or adults with children.

The executive committee of Bromley council was last night due to discuss how to spend a £150,000 grant from Westminster to help prevent further homelessness as a result of the Coalition Government’s housing benefit reforms.

None of the money, however, will be used to help people already on the streets.

Another organisation desperate for help in Bromley is the Latch Project, which places homeless youngsters aged from 16 to 25-years-old with host families in the area.

Project officer Niki Moran said: “We always need more host families because we always have young people to find a home for.

“Young people aged from 16 to 25 really struggle to survive, and without our service many would be on the streets.

Last year Sandy Greenfield battled with Bromley council to get them to address the problem of homelessness, demanding the then portfolio holder Colin Bloom to come out onto the streets to see the problem in person.

Mr Bloom, who has now stood down from Bromley Council, said: “I defy anyone to go out and not find people sleeping rough in Bromley. It is something that the fourth estate can really do something about.

“It is simply not right that we have this problem in a prosperous borough like Bromley. This is not what I, or any of us pay our taxes for.”

A spokesperson for Bromley council, after initially denying that there were any rough sleepers in the borough, said: “We work closely with Thames Reach who are contracted to provide outreach services to quickly identify and engage with anyone who is rough sleeping to help them off the street.

“During this period of severe weather we are working closely with Thames Reach and the voluntary sector to ensure that we capture and investigate any intelligence of potential rough sleepers so that they can be assisted in to accommodation.”

She added: “There is also a national severe weather emergency protocol in place which seeks to ensure that during periods of extreme cold weather everything is done to minimise the risks arising from rough sleeping.

“Essentially, rough sleepers should not have to sleep rough and every effort should be made to access accommodation for them during this period.”

For further details of the shelter phone 020 8466 0257 or www.bromleyurc.org.uk

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