Published: 00:01, 27 January 2017
In the final part of our series of special reports about homelessness in Kent, we give you the chance to find out how close you could be to ending up on the streets.
This year more people than ever face being left without a roof over their heads, a senior figure at a homeless charity has warned.
Angela Clay, of Maidstone's Homeless Care which runs a day centre, food drive and temporary housing, says the group is bracing itself for another tough year as a lack of government funding and affordable housing hits people living on the breadline.
The warning comes at the end of the KM’s You Can Help food drive which sees businesses, schools and good samaritans donating items to the charity to be given out to those in need.
This year’s appeal saw about 16,000 items handed over.
Mrs Clay said: “We have had fantastic support from KM readers – it has really been great.
“I know we have at least reached the same level as last year, which was 16,000 items.
“That means all our store cupboards are now full and we have a lot of stock to work on over the coming months.
“But we are looking at another year of people becoming homeless and being made redundant and we are going to have to deal with it.
“There is not enough accommodation and it doesn’t appear overnight.”
Homeless applications in Maidstone soared by 84 to 630 in the five years to April 2016, but the number of affordable homes built in 2015-16 was at its lowest level for 24 years.
More than 3,000 people are homeless in Kent out of which an estimated 250 are rough sleepers, including more than 30 in Maidstone.
They and other vulnerable people are being looked by various church winter shelters running across the county, which give people a warm place to sleep during the coldest months of the year.
Homeless Care, in Knightrider Street, is also appealing for £1 million to create a new purpose-built centre.
Meanwhile, the Bishop of Dover says society is paying a heavy price by failing to prevent ex-prisoners from ending up living on our streets.
Diverting resources to help them may not be popular but is essential to cut re-offending rates, says Right Rev Trevor Willmott.
“There are an increasing number of people who are being released from prison who immediately find themselves on the street homeless,” he told KentOnline.
“And all the evidence shows us that when a prisoner is released into homelessness they are much more likely to reoffend.
“I think we need a concerted effort to look at more cost effective alternatives - they ways that more ex-prisoners can be released into rehabilitation and supported housing.
“If we don’t do that the cost to society will continue to increase. There will be more people in prison and we won’t know what to do.”
Bishop Willmott, who is involved in various community outreach projects, including some church winter shelters, says evidence shows the number of people sleeping on Kent’s streets is increasing.
“There is an immediate need to meet the needs of those who are homeless and to help them move off the streets – that’s the work which groups such as Catching Lives and Porchlight, the Winter Night Shelters are already doing.”
Speaking about the deaths of two homeless men in Medway over the festive period, Bishop Willmott said: “It’s an absolute tragedy.
“I’m saddened to say it’s not unusual because the number of people facing homelessness is continuing to increase for a whole range of reasons.
“I think it is a judgement against us all, if we are a society that seeks to care for everyone who lives here.
“We are desperate for those who are willing to volunteer and help" - Bishop of Dover Right Rev Trevor Willmott
“No one agency can bring all that is needed to this issue but if we can work at it together then I think we can find some lasting answers.
“We need to build networks of support to surround and work with people who are homeless rather than individual institutions doing their own particular work.
“We are desperate for those who are willing to volunteer and to help and if there are people as a result of this interview who would like to put themselves forward then they know exactly where to go.
“I’d like to thank KM for taking up the issue because you are listened to and you are heard.
“It is a complex issue but it is a critical issue for the well-being of the whole community.”