The plight of Boston’s increasing homeless population

Community safety officers speak to a homeless man at an illegal camp site in Boston in 2012
Community safety officers speak to a homeless man at an illegal camp site in Boston in 2012

The number of homeless people in Boston is at a record high - with up to 62 now sleeping rough in the town.

Homelessness charity Centrepoint Outreach dealt with up to 50 per cent more people living on the street in 2014 than the previous year.

The increase has even seen queues outside the charity’s Red Lion Street drop-in centre.

“We’ve had grown men in tears begging us to help them,” said chief executive Liz Hopkins. “These people feel like failures because of the situation they are in.”

“It’s really sad to see people who came here for a better life ending up in such a miserable sitation.”

The figure rose from 25 to 50 per cent in 2014 – with about 44 people living on the streets at any one time in 2013.

The charity says 80-90 per cent of those sleeping rough are Eastern European migrants. The majority are men aged 25-50, but a small number of women are also recorded sleeping rough each month.

Some ended up homeless when their relationship broke down and they lost their job.

“They have sunk to rock bottom and turn to drink and drugs to dull the pain,” said Liz. “It can happen to anyone. We get all sorts of people - and have some quite educated people on the streets. We see everyone as individuals. They are all someone’s son, someone’s daughter.”

The charity believes increase could be down to the restrictions on migrants claiming benefits and the knock-on effects of zero-hour contracts.

“Some people don’t even get a day’s work each week,” explained Liz.

“So obviously they don’t have money for accommodation.

“But all the rough sleepers we have encountered desperately want to work and many do not even think about claiming benefits when they arrive. They don’t come here to be scroungers. Most of them come here just to improve their lives and they want to work. Perhaps they think the work is going to be available when they come here but sometimes there’s not enough to go around.”

The charity has been coping with the extra demand thanks to donations from the public - helping them to buy sleeping bags, flasks and other supplies.

“We try to talk to them and refer them to drugs and alcohol support groups - but many are very difficult to help when they get to this stage,” Liz said.

“We don’t really know what the solution is - perhaps there needs to be better publicity in their own countries about the true situation here.

Some people do pick themselves up and get a job - and then we never see them again. But there are others who get on a downward spiral and become addicted to drugs and alcohol - they are much more difficult to help as their mental health suffers as a result - but we just try to do what we can to support them.”

We are trying to do more where we can - Asda gave a very generous donation of cooked potatoes - which we were able to give out at our drop-in centre.

The drop-in centre has extended its opening hours to help rough sleepers - with an extra session on Saturday mornings.

The charity is keen for extra volunteers to get on board and is asking for funds or items donated to their charity shop.

If you can help call 01205 360900.