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Shelter says nearly 5,000 people in Kent began the year homeless

By Ismail Khwaja

A leading charity has described homeless figures in Kent as “shocking”, as almost 5,000 people were revealed to be without a permanent roof over their heads.

According to figures provided by Shelter, in the first three months of 2018, a total of 4,723 were either living in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough.

In Dartford one in every 157 people were homeless, which is the highest number in relation to population in the county.

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Poppy Terry, public affairs manager at Shelter, said: "We're continually hearing from families and people battling homelessness and it's due to this perfect storm of crippling rents, welfare cuts which have made it harder to afford the rent and then a total lack of social housing, which would provide options for people to move in to.

"People need help more than ever and particularly from organisations like Shelter."

As well as Dartford, Ashford, Medway and Thanet were also among the top 20 areas in the south east with the highest rate of homelessness.

Medway has the most people experiencing homelessness with 1,100. In stark contrast, Canterbury had the least with 36.

The statistics represent all forms of recorded homeless, but there are forms which are not considered including sofa surfing, which Poppy says means "the true problem is probably even bigger than these numbers today suggest".

Medway has the most people experiencing homelessness with 1,100
Medway has the most people experiencing homelessness with 1,100

Poppy added: "It's not just the numbers, but the increases that we're seeing as well. In the last year the overall number increased by over a 1,000 in the South East.

"It is really worrying and it shows we've reached a real crisis point and that we need to see some action urgently.

"We need to see a commitment to build many more social homes that will help not only people who are homeless right now, but the many more people who are at risk of homelessness."

Lawrence O'Sullivan, 56, currently lives in Dover thanks to accommodation provided by charity Emmaus Dover. However, he spent two years on and off the streets in London after the passing of his mum in 2013.

"Everything didn't seem real to me any more," he said. "So I shut myself away, started drinking very heavily and eventually lost everything.

Lawrence O'Sullivan
Lawrence O'Sullivan

"I just didn't know which way to turn, so my new way to turn was to become homeless as I had nothing left really."

Lawrence has been working for the charity for more than two years now and is a qualified portable appliance tester, but recalls being in a state of "delirium" before he found support.

He said: "You're at your wits end because you don't know where you're going to be from one day to the next and every day is like Groundhog Day.

"You've got so many people in London and there's nobody to talk to. You can talk to people in the shelters, you can talk to outreach workers, but you feel so alone and so afraid."

There were 29,591 people recorded as homeless in the south east and almost 320,000 nationally - an increase of 13,000 people since last year.

Mark Mckeown, who had to live in a churchyard, shares his story here.

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