As the grip of sub-zero temperatures tightens over Christmas, increasing numbers of people are finding themselves homeless.
And over the next week, an army of volunteers will be busy providing food and shelter for rising numbers of people in need.
Lack of shelter for rough sleepers has long been an issue in the district but, thanks to Bradford project Inn Churches, some overnight provision is in place for those in need this winter. Seven churches in the city are opening overnight in rotation until the end of February.
It’s not just rough sleepers seeking shelter. Government figures show that 38 households were accepted as homeless by Bradford Council over the last three months, a rise from 23 in the previous quarter. An estimated 24 homeless households in Bradford will be spending Christmas in temporary accommodation.
Inn Churches co-ordinator Shawna Splawn says: “Since we opened on December 1, we have housed 18 individuals, which translates as 65 beds over a seven-day period. Perhaps the recession is being felt by those at the bottom of the economic ladder as dramatically as anywhere else. There seems to be a real need.”
This month the T&A reported that the number of homeless people in Bradford has soared by 65 per cent in the last quarter, according to Government figures.
Housing charity Shelter urged people struggling with housing costs this Christmas to seek advice.
The recession has also had an impact on organisations supporting the homeless. The Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank provides food parcels for individuals and families in need, but a lack of donations has forced the charity to cut back this Christmas. The organisation relies on donations of non-perishable food which community workers distribute.
Founder Lashman Singh said donations had been low this year. “We rely heavily on harvest festivals, but we’re down on donations this time,” he said. “The recession has had an impact – people just aren’t parting with spare food – but we have more people in need this year. We’ve been doubling up on family parcels, sending out 120 a month.
“We’ve also been helping community organisations, but we just can’t meet that demand at the moment.”
Mr Singh called for churches, other places of worship, schools and businesses, to help. “We’d like people to set up donation points,” he said. “If people have surplus food after Christmas, we urge them to donate it. It will be a tough time for a lot of people in the New Year.”
Elsewhere, volunteers are using what donations they have to bring Christmas to homeless people and those living in sub-standard accommodation.
Bradford Day Shelter, on Edmund Street, is extending its hours, opening on Friday and Saturday as well as the usual Sunday to Thursday, from 9.15am to 4pm. A Christmas party took place yesterday, and tomorrow there will be a sit-down Christmas dinner, with games and gifts.
“We’re open now for a full 14 days,” says manager Jason Creswell. “We’re expecting about 60 to 70 people on Christmas Day. We’ve been busier recently because of the bad weather. Thanks to Inn Churches, some of those coming here during the day will have overnight shelter too.”
Mr Creswell said donations of warm clothing, bedding and toiletries were needed, as well as volunteers to cover the new-year period.
At Assisi House hostel for homeless men on Leeds Road, a Christmas Day party is planned, with gifts and a quiz.
Bradford Soup Run’s Christmas dinner is due to take place today at 4pm. The charity, which has been giving hot food, clothing and bedding to the homeless on Friday evenings for 26 years, fed 140 people last Christmas. Soup Run director John Tempest has prepared for a similar number today. “We’ve had bad weather before and it’s never stopped us,” he said.
Bradford Nightstop provides emergency accommodation for young people aged 16 to 25. A spokesman said at least one volunteer was on telephone duty over Christmas, to refer young people to volunteer hosts who provide a spare room, hot meal and a bath or shower. The charity also makes referrals to the Bradford City Project Hostel.
* To contact Shelter, ring 0808 8004444 or visit shelter.org.uk. For more information, to make a donation, or to enquire about being a volunteer, contact Bradford Day Shelter on (01274) 393234; Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank on (01274) 542672 (Keith Thomson) or 07990 644586 (Lashman Singh); Bradford Nightstop on (01274) 776888; Assisi House on (01274) 776888; or Bradford Soup Run at Unit 4, Newcastle House, Barkerend Road, Bradford BD1 4AP.