As the dark nights draw in, a small but dedicated team are getting ready to help anyone in Scarborough who finds themselves without anywhere to sleep at night.
Tonight is the first night of this year’s Winter Watch scheme, which is run by Scarborough Homeless Support Services and lasts until April.
Manager Judith Pullen, who has been with the charity for 15 years, said she doesn’t know what this winter will bring until the calls start coming in, but that she and her colleagues will be doing everything they can to keep people warm, safe and with a roof over their head.
Judith explained that Winter Watch, which is funded by Scarborough Council, takes over at 5pm every night throughout the colder months when office hours end.
Between 5pm and 9pm, anyone who is experiencing an accommodation crisis can access the service at Scarborough Police Station and speak to Judith or one of her team.
She explained: “Clients can be referred to us by all organisations in Scarborough, including the police, probation, the council or the hospital, or people can self refer.
“The police will take their name and date of birth, then ring us on our mobile.
“We’ll then go and meet them at the police station and take copious amounts of information about the person’s health, personal circumstances, housing history and finances.
“We spend about 30 to 40 minutes with each client, asking what brought them to this situation.”
Judith said that the only thing they ask is that people present themselves in a non-violent, non-agressive manner.
She said: “We don’t discriminate and we don’t judge. If someone has been drinking, it depends on their level of awareness.
“Not everyone under the influence will be threatening or violent.”
When an assessment has been made, if the client can be accommodated they are issued with a voucher to take to one of the five or six local providers who work in conjunction with the charity.
Judith said: “Once we’ve issued a voucher they have to arrive within an hour. They’re put into good standard accommodation and offered a full English cooked breakfast the next morning.
“In some cases, this will be the first time in a while that they’ve stayed somewhere decent.”
People can also be provided with other items, such as pot noodles, toiletries and clothing.
The following day, the charity will get in touch with other agencies, such as Foundation or Scarborough Council, to discuss their housing options.
Judith said there is no such thing as a typical night with Winter Watch, but that last year they went out 259 times to see between 160 and 170 different people.
“There is a real problem with homelessness in Scarborough,” said Judith. “The reality is that we’re bursting at the seams at the moment.
“I would say it’s increasing, but with the work of the council, Foundation and ourselves, I would say we’re managing it.”
Judith explained that there are a multitude of reasons why people become homeless.
She said: “It can be down to landlord disputes, relationship problems or economic problems.
“The economic problems in this country have created a lot of problems between couples. Relationships are breaking down and a lot of stress is being put onto families.
“Around 90 per cent of the people that we see are male, because in that situation it is usually the female who stays in the accommodation.”
Judith added that they also see both male and female clients who are fleeing from domestic abuse, sometimes with children.
The service can see clients from age 16 and the oldest person they have accommodated was 92.
Judith explained that many people are now facing the dilemma of “eat or heat” due to the spiralling costs of household bills.
As part of the charity’s daytime service, they can provide food parcels and extra duvets for people who are in real need.
Judith said that when people do end up having to sleep rough, many head for places such as Valley Bridge, the Italian Gardens and the beach.
She added: “We’ve even had people sleeping in their cars on West Pier and Marine Drive.
“These cases tend to be when a relationship has broken down and the person has had to move out, but they’re still trying to hold down employment.”
The charity, based in Cross Street, continues to have very positive feedback from those who have used its services.
One client said: “They got me into a home straight away and got me back on my feet.
“I think the work they do it so important to getting people off the streets. I will recommend them to anyone who is in trouble and needs help. Thank you so much.”
Another said: “They have helped me so much - I cannot thank the staff and team enough. Now I can move on with my life.”