A SLOUGH homelessness charity is confident they can beat rough sleeping despite the problem being ‘worse than ever’.

Mandy Maguire, head of day services at Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC), a centre for rough sleepers on Ragstone Road, said: “Our ultimate aim would be to close down. To achieve that would mean we’ve got enough accommodation. My dream is to do away with day centres.’’

Mandy (pictured) has worked with SHOC since they opened in 1997, when she was asked by her manager in her previous job in the council’s housing department to give some advice to the homeless after none of her colleagues took up the offer.

She said: “The second person I saw when I arrived was sort of fidgeting in his chair as I was speaking to him, then all of a sudden a ferret came out of his cuff, which must have been under his jumper as he was speaking to me. And I thought ‘I like it here, I like this!’

“A couple of years later SHOC got some more funding and I took a pay cut and jumped ship.’’

The day centre sprang from a group of Christians giving out soup in a church and shelter for the night, before being granted lottery funding to set up the charity.

Initially, they mainly worked with white, middle-aged British men with alcohol problems, but now see a much wider range of ages and nationalities.

Her favourite thing about the job is the people she meets and seeing people who walk in at the lowest point of their life get their confidence back.

Paul Sullivan is just one of those people. Only 18 months after coming off the streets, he now works full-time for Uxbridge-based Trinity Housing Solutions Ltd, SHOC’s parent organisation which provides supported accommodation for just under 200 people.

He became homeless after a relationship breakdown and initially camped in the woods and kept away from people but came to SHOC after deciding he could no longer sustain that.

After just a week and a half, he had an interview for one of Trinity’s supported houses in Hillingdon.

Being able to help people navigate their way through government bureaucracy and paperwork, at a time when they may lack the stamina to do so, is the part of the job he finds most rewarding.

He said: ‘’Rough sleeping is hour-to-hour survival. A lot of the things you have to deal with, such as the DWP or the council, tend to get a bit overwhelming as you haven’t got the headspace for it.

‘’You are just trying to keep yourself alive, find somewhere to sleep, find some food, get washed.’’

Mandy describes the tragic amount of death she comes across as the most challenging aspect of her work.

She has had to deal with finding ‘one of ours’ in a river and learning that a service user has been beaten to death on the High Street on Christmas Day,

In the face of such horror, it can be hard to separate work from the rest of her life, but she says it ‘comes with time’.

She said: ‘’When I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s pouring with rain, or windy or there’s snow on the ground, I am always hoping everyone is OK.

“But I’ve got to leave work at work otherwise I would be bringing everybody home with me.’’

Everyone asked cited a wide range of reasons for people becoming homeless, including relationship breakdown and addiction, but no one denied that number of rough sleepers is on the rise, with Shelter estimating that rough sleeping has gone up by 165 per cent since 2010.

Benefit cuts and a lack of social housing were also mentioned as drivers of rising homelessness.

Trinity Housing Director Annette Kirkeboe said: ‘’Local Housing Allowance should cover rent. Many of our service users can’t even consider using the private sector.’’

“The private rented sector in the UK is too often overpriced, insecure and poor quality.

“In Finland which has effectively ended homelessness, Housing First is used as part of an integrated strategy that also includes prevention, new housing and a lot of homelessness services.

“We should learn from Finland using existing knowledge and experience and enhancing existing approaches to homelessness.’’

The government announced on Monday that a four-year freeze on local housing allowance would end.

Research by Alma Economics estimates that restoring the Local Housing Allowance to cover the cheapest third of private rents would save taxpayers £124bn of spending on homelessness services.

Both organisations praised ‘housing first’ strategies in Finland and being trialled in Manchester and Birmingham.

Such strategies view housing as the primary need of a homeless person- and a stable home as the catalyst for fixing any other issues someone may face in their personal life.

Mandy said of such strategies: ‘’In theory it’s great, because if you are giving somebody somewhere to live.

“It’s much easier to work with somebody if you know where to find them. In reality, it is impossible because we haven’t got enough flats.’’

The Homelessness Reduction Act was also praised for giving everyone a right to a personal housing plan and creating a ‘real difference’ in the way Slough Borough Council work with SHOC.

SHOC rely entirely on donations, which peaked over the festive period.

Mandy said: “Donations flood in over Christmas but then they drop and stay dropped until Harvest when you get some more.

“Christmas here is wonderful. We have lots and lots of presents to give out. The only rule is no alcohol, but we have great booze-free bubbly!

“People aren’t just homeless at Christmas. In 2020 people shouldn’t be getting killed at Christmas.

“People should have a roof over their head and someone to help them and support them.’’