Nathan Tough, Porchlight

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Assaults on homeless rough sleepers have “gone through the roof” in Kent, including in Dover, according to Nathan Tough the Community and Corporate Fundraising Officer for Porchlight.

Porchlight, the homelessness charity, identified 707 rough sleepers in Kent (excluding Medway) last year which painted a very “bleak picture” said Mr Tough. Disturbingly there was a 72% rise in rough sleepers aged 24 and younger and the number of female rough sleepers was on the way up but, on the positive side, Porchlight secured an 84% ‘save rate’ from those it identified as rough sleepers. The Porchlight help line is mostly operated by previous rough sleepers who have benefited from the charity’s activities and now act as volunteers for it. In addition to the homeless aspect of the people aided by Porchlight many had mental health issues, some 40% across the County, while physical health issues also were a challenge for rough sleepers particularly as they lose their right to be registered with GPs if they have no permanent address.

Porchlight runs Supported Accommodation Facilities where rough sleepers can stay for up to two years and in Dover Fern Court provides such accommodation and is the only facility in the County where a dog can be housed along with its rough sleeper owner. Mr Tough said it was an uphill battle to move people on after that because of issues surrounding the availability of Housing Benefit and private Landlord prejudices against those claiming the benefit. Contrary to popular perception that rough sleeping arises because of drunkenness and drug taking many who become homeless do so following a relationship breakdown and an inability to pay rent. They often spend a period “sofa surfing” with friends before ending up in shop doorways or parks or alleys where they are often verbally abused, physically assaulted or even urinated on. Approached by Porchlight volunteers rough sleepers must show a commitment to engage with its services to benefit from its resources. Mr Tough highlighted a case study on a CD presentation and described activities by Porchlight volunteers in the City of Canterbury, which has a significant rough sleeper problem. With just 230 members of staff 70% of its income comes from statutory funding the remaining 30% being from voluntary donations.

Thanking Mr Tough for his address Past President the Reverend Peter Sherred highlighted the importance of people being made aware of the issue of homelessness and its causes. Porchlight through its volunteers offered the good of humanity, he said, to those less fortunate who fall into such difficult circumstances.