More beds are being laid on in St Albans to help rough sleepers cope during the cold winter months.
Five additional beds funded by St Albans City and District Council have been made available at the Open Door homeless shelter in Bricket Road.
The facility has 12 self-contained rooms and now a temporary dormitory has been set up in the reception area to provide the extra spaces.
These beds will be available every night until the end of March as part of the council’s Severe Weather Emergency Provision (Swep).
In previous years, such extra beds were only brought into use when the temperature dropped below a certain level or snow fell.
Rough sleepers who use the Swep offer will also be given advice on the support services available to them.
Open Door – which is managed by Hightown Housing Association – operates as a night shelter and as a daytime drop-in for vulnerable people. It offers guidance on housing, health and other issues.
There is access to computers and people can undertake educational and training courses on healthcare, IT and basic life skills.
Rough Sleeping Steering Group
Both the council and Open Door work to support those living on the streets through the Rough Sleeping Steering Group for St Albans.
Local churches represented on the group are planning to provide further beds in the event that Open Door reaches its capacity.
Other organisations involved on the steering group include Hightown and the homeless charities Centre 33 and Emmaus.
The Council has also applied to central government’s Cold Weather Fund to support the cost of the additional beds and other expenses such as new clothing.
Extra beds 'a progressive step'
Councillor Jacqui Taylor, portfolio holder for housing, inclusion and protection, said: “Making sure that the extra beds are available throughout the winter is a progressive step.
“I’m delighted we’re committed to offering rough sleepers this help every winter night.
“In the past, it was only provided during snow falls or when the feel-like temperature was forecast to drop below freezing point for three days in a row.
“This is a major improvement and we’re working closely with charities, housing groups and other partners to see what additional measures we can introduce to deal with the complex challenges of rough sleeping and homelessness.
Bid for more funding
“We will closely monitor events to see what more can be done and I am hopeful that our bid for more funding will be successful as we have a very strong case.”
On World Homeless Day in October, the council launched an initiative to help rough sleepers take a new direction in life.
The initiative, Housing First, is a programme run by Hightown on behalf of St Albans’ council and Dacorum Borough Council.
It is financed by a £100,000 government grant and the aim is to support 8 to 12 rough sleepers from St Albans district and Dacorum and give them a fresh start, including a place of their own.
Support workers recruited
Two specialist support workers have been recruited as part of the 12-month pilot scheme to engage rough sleepers on the streets.
Concerns about rough sleepers in St Albans district can be reported to Open Door, including a description of the individual and the location:-