SPECIAL FEATURE: Harrogate’s hidden homeless problem

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Harrogate’s only homeless hostel has revealed the staggering scale of the homelessness problem in the district.

Almost 200 rough sleepers were referred to the Harrogate Homeless Project’s latest scheme, No Second Night Out, since its launch 12 months ago.

The figures suggest that without the scheme one extra person would have been sleeping rough in Harrogate every other night in the past year.

Despite these startling figures a survey conducted by the charity found that a fifth of Harrogate residents said they don’t think Harrogate has a homelessness problem, and a further 44 per cent think the problem is only small.

Andy Kirk, project leader at Harrogate Homeless Project said: “Harrogate has a hidden homeless problem. Even we have been surprised by the number of people coming through the door.” Despite many people thinking there isn’t a big homelessness problem in the Harrogate District, almost half of people who responded to the survey have seen someone sleeping rough locally. Andy added: “You might not always see people sleeping on the streets, but there are people sleeping rough in fields, in their cars and in local parks.”

Almost half of people who filled in the survey think that homeless people are dependant on drink or drugs, however the Harrogate Homeless Project insists this is not always the case.

NADV 1310221AM5 Andrew Langley. Picture : Adrian Murray.(1310221AM5)

NADV 1310221AM5 Andrew Langley. Picture : Adrian Murray.(1310221AM5)

“It is a shock to people that the vast majority of the referrals are ‘ordinary’ people,” said Andy.

Struggling

“Most of the times it is men becoming homeless because it is mainly the man that leaves the property after a relationship breakdown.

“People are struggling in these difficult times and all it can take is a run of bad luck to leave someone out on the streets.”

Andy admitted the Harrogate Homeless Project team hadn’t expected anything close to the numbers of homeless people they have dealt with. “That first month, it was a real eye opener, we were rushed off our feet and I don’t think we expected that many people,” he said. “Harrogate is seen as an affluent area and people are not seeing the number of homeless people out there. In the first week we started the No Second Night Out programme we dealt with 15 people in one week. It has never stopped, there is a constant stream of referrals.”

The project had to employ an additional person to help Andy to deal with the vast number of referrals. The No Second Night Out project works closely with the council, the police and the hospital and aims to intervene as soon as someone finds themselves homeless. Rough sleepers are given emergency accommodation within 24 hours of being referred to the Harrogate Homeless Project, then are enrolled in a long term programme leading to a single offer of suitable accommodation.

Successful

Andy said: “The scheme is transitional, we have a move-on deposit scheme to help people move into private accommodation, freeing up space for more referrals.”

The scheme has been so successful that 90 per cent of homeless people referred to the project have found somewhere suitable to live.

People on the scheme usually sleep on camp beds at the hostel for the first week, with up to five people sharing a room. Andy said: “It is not comfortable but they have to be serious about it to get an accommodation offer, this stops the system getting abused by people who actually have somewhere else to go.

“No Second Night Out is for people who have got no where at all to go.”

The success of the project in Harrogate and York has now led to it being adopted across North Yorkshire, with Craven, Hambleton, Richmondshire, Ryedale, Scarborough and Selby signing up for the scheme.

The Harrogate Homeless Project is the district’s only direct access homeless hostel and provides a day service used by 50 vulnerable people each day, in addition to running a 16-bed homeless hostel and the no second night scheme.

The charity is encouraging those who see people sleeping rough to call them. Andy said: “You can call us and make sure they get the right support straight away. Even if you aren’t sure that someone is homeless or you worry you might be interfering, just call us and let us be the ones who make that assessment. It costs you next to nothing and you can do it anonymously. One short phone call could change someone’s life.”

Harrogate Homeless Project’s team can be called 24 hours a day on 01423 566900.

Case study: ‘Without help I might have ended up in jail’

Andrew Langley is from Ripon and has lived in Harrogate for 15 years.

His life was turned upside down in a matter or hours when he was kicked out of his flat. After spending a few nights staying with family, Andrew’s options ran out and he was faced with sleeping rough.

“I spent a couple of nights at my dad’s then a couple of nights at my mum’s, but after a while I didn’t have anywhere,” he said. “I bought a tent and went to the Valley Gardens and slept out. I was out for about four or five nights overall, but it got too cold even in July. The hardest thing isn’t finding shelter, the hardest thing is the cold, it’s so hard to get warm.”

After just one night of sleeping rough Andrew realised he needed help, but it took him days to pluck up the courage to visit the Harrogate Homeless Project and ask for shelter. “Going to the hostel and asking for help was the hardest thing for me to do,” he said. “I hadn’t wanted to ask for help. I thought, what will it be like? Can they even help me?”

At the end of July Andrew was referred to the No Second Night Out scheme and spent the next nine nights sleeping on a camp bed in a meeting room at the hostel, with two or three other people enrolled on the No Second Night Out programme sharing the room. He said: “I didn’t expect that many people, I honestly didn’t think that number of people were homeless in Harrogate.”

Andrew admits the discipline of sticking to the rules was difficult at times. “Break their rules and you’re out on your backside, some people don’t like those rules so don’t engage with the project. But if you stick to the rules it’s definitely worth it.”

The Harrogate Homeless Project helped Andrew move into a shared house and then on to a flat, helping him to secure a deposit and providing him with a starter pack including bedding and food.

Andrew said: “The flat is amazing, it’s only one room but it’s mine. It has kept me out of trouble and kept me off the streets. Now I have got somewhere I can call home I can get on with my life,” he added.

“Without this place I would have ended up sleeping rough or in prison, when you’re homeless the temptation of stealing and crime is there.

“I don’t know of any other homeless scheme in Harrogate, if it wasn’t for this scheme there would be a lot more homeless people.”

Even Andrew admits he was surprised by Harrogate’s hidden homelessness problem.

“People don’t think there is homelessness in Harrogate. Although they can’t see them in the day time, in the night time they are there.

“What surprised me was the number of people sleeping up at the Pinewoods and in parks. I would think I’ve got a quiet spot to sleep tonight then I’d be surrounded by other homeless people, sleeping rough too.”

Next week: A special report on a typical night at Harrogate homeless hostel.