Kicked and punched, spat at and even urinated on – the city’s forgotten residents have spoken about a tough life on the streets of Chichester.
“I’m sleeping here tonight, this is my bed,” said Darren Brown, pointing to a flat cardboard box in the corner of a city centre car park.
“I’ve been out here for two-and-a-half years, it’s horrible. It hate it.”
He has been verbally and physically abused and, recently, had lighter fuel poured over his sleeping bag.
Darren lives with a group of around six others who sleep between car parks and outside shops each night.
He suffers from emphysema and has recently started having seizures.
Fellow rough sleeper Julian Challis, 34, said he’s lived in hostels since the age of 16 but feels safer on the streets.
Julian said: “A lot of the hostels are full of drug addicts and criminals. I’m a reformed addict and I feel like if I go there I’ll go back to that way.”
He said he’s been clean for 15 years and was employed as a labourer but was sacked when his employer learned he was on the streets.
“Even when I was working I couldn’t afford to rent a place, they want six months’ up front, how can we afford that?
“Why do we all fall through the net?”
One 48-year-old woman, who did not want to be named, said she had been on the streets for six or seven months since coming off heroin, and living rough in Chichester for four weeks.
She said some find it difficult to conform to staying in homeless hostels and called for a safe place for people to drink and take drugs away from the streets.
“We’re all different, conforming doesn’t work for everybody,” she said.
“Does a civilised society want its streets littered with homeless people, no it doesn’t.
“It’s all too easy to get into the cycle of drink and drugs to numb yourself from the bleak personal reality and the system is not supporting them.”
Calling homelessness an ‘epidemic’, she added: “Just because I’m on the streets or had a drug problem doesn’t make me less of a person.”
The group said about 20 people are homeless around the Chichester area, adding that many people show daily kindness to them, including volunteers from the Four Streets Project and the City Angels.
City Angel volunteer Julia Hixson is trying to help them into housing. She said: “I think most people in Chichester see this as a smart, nice place to live and have absolutely no idea how many homeless and vulnerable people we have.
“I have spent time listening to, and supporting them.
“They are good guys but they have fallen through the cracks.
“We need to get them housed before they have to try and survive another winter out there.”
Stonepillow CEO Geoffrey Willis said the charity is ready to help anybody who finds themselves homeless.
In the last six months, the charity had taken 78 people off the streets and placed them in the 86 beds Stonepillow provides across Chichester, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton he said.
Responding to the claim that hostels are ‘full of drug-takers’, he said: “Yes, that’s partly true but not totally.
“Homelessness certainly includes ex-convicts, people still drinking heavily and still taking drugs, but it also includes people with none of those issues who have found themselves on the streets for all sorts of reasons.
“We help people who aren’t yet ready to give up their addictions but for people who don’t want to make a change there’s not a lot we can do.”
“I see it as a highly positive thing that Stonepillow is equipped to support all sorts of people wrestling with various issues.”
But he strongly refuted the claim that living rough was safer than the hostels.
He said: “You have reported in your newspaper just how lethal it can be out there.
“At the start of the year a homeless man was badly beaten up in a shop doorway and then in March another had his sleeping bag urinated on.”
People are given a 28-day place at the two hostels in Hunston and Bognor (which both have ten beds, Bognor’s increasing to 14 next year).
They are not allowed to drink or take drugs on the premises, and Mr Willis said some people found abstaining for 14 hours too difficult.
Mr Willis called the idea of a safe house for drug-taking ‘very, very difficult’, because of client and staff safety.
He said Stonepillow’s abstinence house was ‘extremely successful’, adding: “We are trying to help some of the most troubled members of society at all different stages of their pathway but they have to want to engage with us in some way.”
Stonepillow also has day hubs in Chichester and Bognor, a lodge for people just discharged from hospital, and 39 beds in ‘move on’ accommodation to prepare people for independent living.
For more information visit www.stonepillow.org.uk