Rough sleeping will soar if there's no access to rehab, says Kent homelessness charity

  • Video report by ITV News Meridian's John Ryall

Kent's largest homeless charity is warning that struggles in accessing addiction and mental health services makes helping rough sleepers 'close to impossible'.

Despite Porchlight having its funding boosted to recruit specialist one-to-one staff to work with the most challenging cases, it says major long-term government investment is needed to reverse an escalating crisis on the streets of the South East.

Staff at Porchlight conduct daily checks on seafront shelters. Credit: ITV Meridian

Staff at Porchlight conduct daily checks on seafront shelters, shop doorways, where they find the most complex and challenging cases.

Almost all of the people they find sleeping rough are on the street because of addictions, mental illness and abuse, and sometimes all three.

The specialist navigators are funded with new money, a share of close to half a million pounds, via councils in Folkestone and Dover.

However Porchlight's CEO for more than 20 years, Mike Barrett, says it will only begin to repair the damage done by years of austerity that have seen a problem, become a crisis.

Mike Barrett, CEO, Porchlight Credit: ITV Meridian

Mike Barrett says: "By 2010, we had, the sector nationally, had almost solved rough sleeping. There were very, very few people sleeping on the streets. Since 2010/2011 there's been a steady increase.

"If we could simplify it and see people as individuals, and not having to ask them to jump over hoop after hoop, then we might get somewhere. But the assessment process is extremely drawn out. It hinges on the fact that they're aren't enough rehab beds and so there has to be rationing, there has to be gatekeeping, as there is with housing generally. That's one of the reasons why people are staying on the streets too long, and that's why people are coming back to the streets as well."

Ben is one of Porchlight's biggest success stories. Credit: ITV Meridian

One man the charity has helped to save is Ben.

Once a heroin addict sleeping rough in Broadstairs, he is now drug free and living in a Porchlight hostel.

He says: "One day by surprise, I got told I had place here and I turned up without even knowing this place existed and that was it. They have brilliant aftercare and I have key worker and regular drugs workers who come and see me. I've just started counselling. You know, they care. I've been clean [off drugs] for two months."

He's hoping to return to work as a graphic designer.

He says it's access to rehab and mental health workers that have turned his life around.

However stories like his will always be the exception, says Porchlight, unless investment to tackle homelessness returns to pre-austerity levels.