With homelessness in Blackburn with Darwen at a record high, reporter Amy Farnworth, went to chat to some of those living on the streets to find out how they came to be in the situations they’re in, and what help, if any, they’ve been offered...

EARLY one morning under the cover of Morrison’s car park in Blackburn, I made my way over to what looked like a discarded heap of old bedding. I was going to speak to two members of the homeless community, who had asked to have their stories told.

Andy Gray and a fellow rough sleeper, who asked to be referred to only as Mr S, have been using the shelter of the car park as a place to sleep for months, but before becoming homeless, their lives were very different.

Mr S, 53, told me he used to work in construction, and would often work away from home, but the demands of the job led to his relationship falling apart, which ultimately resulted in him seeking refuge on the streets.

He said: “I had to leave my house in Clitheroe when my relationship broke down, and because I had been working away and not living in the area for very long, when I came to Blackburn the housing department told me I wasn’t entitled to a home and they couldn’t accept responsibility of care because I was only in Clitheroe one night a week.”

Mr S, who has seven children, said he ended up getting a private landlord and lived with two other members of the homeless community, Andy Gray, and Andrew Davie, the man who died on Boots car park in Blackburn at the end of last year.

Lancashire Telegraph:

However, following altercations with the landlord they said they lost their home and were ultimately left on the streets.

Mr Gray, who is originally from Preston, added: “The landlord threw us out. Andy went to Blackpool for a bit then came back to Blackburn and tried at the Salvation Army but he lost his place there – the next day he died.”

Mr Gray, 43, said following the death of his parents he went off the rails and started using drugs to numb the pain. Before long he could no longer afford to live within his means. He ended up with nowhere to live.

The pair estimate they have been living on the streets for more than a year, and chose Blackburn as it has a big homeless community where neither of them have to be alone.

The town also has a large number of homeless hostels, offering around 900 beds for those in disadvantaged positions, making it a destination for those seeking shelter.

In December, Blackburn with Darwen’s community safety manager, Mark Aspin, said there were as many as 13 people sleeping rough on the borough’s streets with a group of between 45 and 50 people with complex needs that the council was trying to support.

When asked about the issue of drugs though, which have been attributed as reasons for rough sleepers being unable to sustain tenancy, both Mr S and Mr Gray said despite having hard drug habits in the past they have managed to control these.

Lancashire Telegraph:

However, they admit the drug, Spice, is a problem for many people on the streets as it’s cheap, readily available, and helps them to sleep.

Mr Gray, who explains how he worked as a builder and railway engineer before he became homeless, said: “The drugs aren’t a problem, it’s sleep that’s the problem for us.

“Day in day out it’s only ever about trying to get to sleep.We spend all day preparing for the night and all night preparing for the next day.

“Spice costs around a fiver, and you might say, why not save it, but a fiver isn’t going to pay for a hotel room for the night. It’s about getting through one day at a time. Sleeping rough is horrible.

“We’ve got through the worst of it – Christmas and winter – but it’s bad, especially when we’re told to move on or we have our stuff taken away."

Mr S, who had recently been released from prison following an altercation in Blackburn town centre, said he finds it easier in jail than he does on the streets.

He said: “I came out of jail a lot healthier than I went in. I find it easier in there than out on the street, but it’s not the answer is it, you can’t keep going to jail because it’s easier.”

The two men say they have been hassled by the police for sitting in the town centre and even though they say they’ve attempted to engage with outreach workers from a council funded ‘Street Reach’ team they are continuously moved on.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Mr Gray added: “I just want to see everyone housed and happy and smiling. There’s enough happiness and money in the world to go around."

In December, the Lancashire Telegraph reported that those using Morrisons car park had been known to reject council ‘Street Reach’ staff’s attempts to provide shelter.

At the time, Cllr Shaukat Hussain, borough neighbourhoods boss, said that the Street Reach team went out regularly and gave people the chance to use the available shelters in the town.

Housing needs and support manager at Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Steve Richards, said: “There is no need for anybody in Blackburn with Darwen to sleep rough, there are spaces available as long as the rules of the establishment are followed.

“There is a lot of support and help out there for people who want to engage with it.”

Providers in Blackburn are Salvation Army, Nightsafe, Nightshelter, James Street in Darwen, In Partnership and The Foyer.