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Frozen Devon: Emergency accommodation for homeless people

11 January 2010, North Devon Gazette.

An emergency accommodation service has been set up for homeless people in North Devon, as the cold, icy weather continues to hit the district.

Rough sleepers are being offered overnight accommodation and a warm breakfast at the Freedom Centre in Haward Avenue, Barnstaple, for as long as the freezing weather lasts.

The service is provided by Freedom Social Projects in partnership with North Devon Council when the temperature is predicted to drop to zero or below for three consecutive nights. Since mid December, the severe weather provision has been called into action for 18 nights, with that figure set to continue rising this week.

Council's rough sleepers outreach worker, Abbi Copp, said: "North Devon doesn't have a large rough sleeping population, with just two long-term rough sleepers in the area. Even though that number is low, we aim to do all we can to help them and others who are temporarily out on the streets which, when it's freezing cold, can mean the difference between life and death."

Last month, the council carried out its first rough sleeper hotspot night count to monitor how many people were on the streets. Seven rough sleepers were recorded. These hotspot counts will now be completed every three months to supplement the council's larger official annual night counts.

Cllr Brian Moores, lead member for housing, took part in the hotspot count and said: "I've been overwhelmed by the passion, care and determination shown by all the professionals, volunteers and officers involved in trying to help these vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals.

"Going out on the count was a real eye-opener, and I would like to say thanks to the workers and volunteers, whose efforts mean services such as the severe weather provision are there to help those most in need."

Day-to-day, a number of agencies work with the council's rough sleeper outreach worker, including Freedom Social Projects and Barnstaple Poverty Action Group (BPAG), to try to help those who feel their only option is to sleep rough.

They also work with anyone who is at risk of being homeless, to try to prevent them from ending up on the streets.

To access the severe weather provision service, people can phone Freedom Social Projects on (01271) 321171.