THE number of people sleeping rough in the town centre has hit an all time high according to a homeless charity.

Threshold Housing Link’s street outreach team has reported that they were aware of 20 rough sleepers on Wednesday night.

The figure, which was made up of people aged from 25-years-old to 58-years-old, is an increase on the maximum of 15 people found to be sleeping rough in the whole of January last year.

Three out of the 20 people recorded were women.

Threshold Housing Link’s operations director Phil Smith said: “In the 20 years that I have been working with homeless people and since 1998 when Threshold first developed its street outreach service I cannot recall rough sleeping like this.

“In the first month of this year our direct access hostel Culvery Court operated with a 99 per cent occupancy rate with empty beds on only 10 occasions.

“We refused access 33 times - 30 times because we were full.

“Our staff have handed out so many blankets and bedding, our stocks are once again running low. It is a worrying time with temperatures so low and many of the rough sleepers putting themselves at risk overnight.

“It is a difficult time for everyone: those who are homeless and those whose job it is to try and ensure their wellbeing.”

Temperatures dropped to four degrees on Wednesday night.

Threshold Housing Link chief executive, Cher Sawyer-Smith, said: “The outreach team do one to one work with them and ask why they are sleeping rough.

“It is usually because of addiction problems, accommodation issues or mental health.

“There needs to be pro-active work done out there to change that aspect of their life.

“The passive approach is to do nothing. We need to have a pro-active approach if we are going to change things.”

Phil added: “Street outreach is an essential element to getting people off the streets. Ultimately, provision of the right type of supported accommodation is what’s needed for these people who are often excluded from any hostel or bed and breakfast provision due to their addiction problems.

“Threshold’s street outreach service is the link between a caring society and those who are homeless and roofless in Swindon.

“Without our help these people are truly cast adrift.”

Sergeant Barry Reed, of the town centre neighbourhood policing team, said: “Our strategy is if there has been a complaint about a rough sleeper we will move them on. If we come across them on our patrols we will engage them and advise them on support and welfare.

“We appreciate people have certain circumstances for being there and we are looking at something more long-term in terms of offering that support and outreach.”