Vital cash for town’s most needy

A VITALLY-needed homelessness prevention scheme in Harrogate has secured funding to continue this winter.

The Shelter to Assist Rough Sleepers Project (STARS) which is run by the Harrogate Homeless Project, has been given funding for the second year running, to shelter rough sleepers in Harrogate.

Latest figures show the town had the second highest estimate of rough sleepers in Yorkshire and Humber (after Bradford) and was in the top 30 nationwide.

The STARS project started last week and runs until March, opening every night and providing beds, showers and food for homeless people.

Harrogate Borough Council has pledged £20,000 to part-fund the scheme this year.

But staff are now warning that the project will have to close next year unless the full cost is met by the council, despite fears that homelessness in the area could spiral in the coming years.

Liz Hancock, project manager at the Harrogate Homeless Project, said: “One of the problems we have is making people aware that homelessness does exist in Harrogate.

“We are really pleased that the council has agreed to spend this money on it.

“There is a desperate need for it.”

News reports earlier this year revealed that experts are fearing a rising tide of homelessness could soon engulf Yorkshire’s sought-after “Golden Triangle” – between Leeds, Harrogate and York – as welfare cuts start to bite while affordable accommodation remains critically low.

Harrogate Borough Council’s housing needs team, which has successfully tackled homelessness acceptances since 2005, is now dealing with around 4,500 enquiries a year and requires an overhaul to cope with increasing pressure once the cuts take root.

Jude Palmer, a Harrogate photographer who has spent the past few weeks working with the Harrogate Homeless Project in advance of a new exhibition that opens next week, said: “There are people of all backgrounds who end up on the street here.

“I even met an investment banker who had fallen by the wayside and a former sous chef at the Ivy Restaurant in London.

“There is a huge contrast between how Harrogate presents itself to people and the reality of the town. Harrogate has got this problem because it is a bubble.

“It is absolutely crucial that this funding has been renewed.”

The STARS scheme is based at Springboard Day Centre at Wesley Chapel House and last year was used by a total of 42 people.

Coun Jean Butterfield, cabinet member for housing, has welcomed Harrogate Borough Council’s decision to financially support the project for the second year running.

“Sleeping rough is difficult at any time of year but never more so as we get into the coldest months,” she said.

“It must be remembered that some people chose to live their lives this way but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get help when they are at their most vulnerable. A hot meal and a bed for the night can make the difference between life and death.

“The Harrogate Homeless Project and the Springboard Day Centre do a tremendous job and the council’s housing team is working with them to tackle the issue of rough sleeping in the district.”

The Harrogate homeless exhibition is being held on December 9 and 10 in the former Noa Noa shop (opposite Queen Victoria’s Monument), Station Parade, between 10am and 3pm, before moving to Harrogate Library for two weeks from January 23.