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Croydon soup kitchen saw 100 people in ONE NIGHT

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HOMELESS charity Nightwatch has reached an unwanted record, with more than 100 people using its soup kitchen and food parcel services in a single night. Chief reporter Gareth Davies investigates... IN 1988, Nightwatch began keeping records of the number of people using its soup kitchen in Queen's Gardens. "Graham, Brendan, Terry, Stan," reads the first entry, adding that another homeless man, Mick, had "not been for a while – says he's OK!" "That is typical of all the early records," said volunteer Roger Davies. "New people were recognised and we had more time to deal with individuals and their problems. "Those entries are full of intimate stories, like Joel, who was a first-timer, or Jack, who the volunteers hadn't seen for a long time, but had dropped by to let them know how he was. "This day and age we can see over 100 people a night, so it's very difficult to relate to a Joel or a Jack. The numbers are almost overwhelming. "There are too many people for us to help, other than giving them some of the basics of life. Yes – that's coping – but we would prefer to do more." Nightwatch hit the unwanted record on a Sunday last Christmas. Sundays are the charity's busiest day because, in addition to the soup kitchen, duvets, and clothes, volunteers also hand out food parcels. Mr Davies has been going over the old records to chart how the number of people using the service has grown. His findings were included in the charity's annual report, published earlier this month. The records might be simple but, as a measure of poverty levels in Croydon, they provide a snapshot of changing levels of deprivation across nearly four decades. Figures show the average number of people seen by the charity on a Sunday rose from seven in 1988, 25 in 1998, 45 in 2008 and 84 last year, with a marked increase since 2011. "What concerns me is that I don't believe we have seen the end of the increases," said Mr Davies, who has been volunteering with the charity since the late 1990s. "We're yet to see the full impact of the Government's welfare cuts, which may well lead more people to drop out of the bottom of society. "That's worrying because we're struggling, not just to provide things like food and clothing, but we're losing out on the individual knowledge of being able to relate to the people we're trying to help." Sunday attendance figures since the turn of the year have not, so far, reached the heights of the Christmas period, which saw the charity "reach a record we never wanted to see," said chairman Jad Adams. "We're very much hoping that 100 was an unacceptable high point that we saw last year and we won't see again," he added. Mr Adams said the sharp rise seen in the last two years was due to eastern Europeans coming to the UK looking for work and an increasing impoverishment in society, which means Nightwatch is seeing the sort of people who otherwise would not have come to a soup run, including many who are not homeless and an increasing number who are in work. He explained: "In these difficult times, quite a number of people we see have somewhere to live and are working but don't have enough money to live on, so come to us for food and household appliances if theirs break down. "It's a dreadful indictment of the system of employment and housing in this country that people can be working as hard as they reasonably can and still can't afford to keep themselves housed and fed. "That's absolutely appalling. There's clearly something wrong with the system." At the moment, Nightwatch can meet the demand thanks to generous financial donations and food parcels supplied by local churches and schools. There are also small signs that the number of people using the service is beginning to fall as the economy improves. Last year, the charity stood accused by the council and police of adding to the problem it is trying to solve, with the borough commander accusing the soup kitchen of being used by people who would rather spend their money on alcohol. Nightwatch survived the high-profile attempt to force it out of Queen's Gardens, though will have to move when the area is turned into flats. Mr Davies, whose figures have been provided to the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry on Food Poverty, is in no doubt as to how needy its clients are. He said: "The cynics say the people we help just come for something that was free, but all we offer them is soup and sandwiches. It's not a hell of a lot. "No one comes to a soup kitchen in the centre of Croydon at 9.30pm at night if they are not in need. They're not coming in to go to a nightclub, they're coming because they have nowhere else to turn."
...But official figures suggest Croydon homelessness is failing... WHILE the number of people seeking help from Nightwatch has increased, official figures show homelessness in Croydon fell last year. Annual statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that 2,459 families presented themselves as homeless to the council in 2013/14, 14 per cent less that the previous year. Of those families, 762 were accepted as being homeless and in priority need. After homelessness reached an eight-year high last year, the council predicted the number of families accepted as homeless in a single year would exceed 1,000 by 2015. This latest data, published this week, suggests the crisis might be easing. Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell described the figures as "encouraging", but agreed with Cllr Alison Butler, Labour's cabinet member for housing, that there was a lot more work to be done. Cllr Butler said: "Addressing this issue is still top of my agenda. My understanding is we have more people being made homeless from the private rented sector. There are also indications that mortgage repossessions are rising. The main problem is the shortage of supply, which is something we're looking really strongly at, including increasing the number of affordable housing projects coming on site in Croydon." Labour will continue the previous council's decision, made earlier this year, to invest millions in a property fund in order to secure 94 one and two-bedroom homes in London. That followed the council borrowing £20 million in 2013 to directly purchase 80 homes. However, Cllr Butler hopes to gradually move away from the Conservative policy of asking homeless families to relocate to other parts of the country. Some 142 households were moved out in 2013/14, including to West Yorkshire, Birmingham, Kent and Hampshire. "We don't want to be shipping people out of Croydon," she said. "We know some people left by choice, but others were deeply upset about it." Cllr Butler said the council was in the process of sourcing alternative emergency accommodation, with an announcement expected in the coming weeks. "It would definitely be premature to read too much into these figures," she added. "The numbers are still too high. It's less of a crisis, that's the way I would put it."

Croydon soup kitchen saw 100 people in ONE NIGHT


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