A Suffolk cleric who was instrumental in establishing a night shelter within Ipswich churches for those sleeping rough says still more needs to be done to help the homeless in the county, as volunteers were overwhelmed with the demand for beds.
Seven church halls in Ipswich have been opening their doors from 8pm to 8am seven days a week through the winter to ensure no-one has to sleep rough during the coldest nights of the year.
One venue has been open every night to cover every day of the week, offering 12 beds to men and women.
The Rev Canon Paul Daltry, Minister for Church and Community Engagement the the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: "Our latest figures show that we had 33 individuals staying with us and yet 55 we have had to turn away as our beds have been full.
"More than 90 per cent of these people were from Ipswich and its immediate area. We are now seeing some of our longer term guests getting more permanent accommodation, which is excellent, but the demand for beds is still there.
"We have had really good support from a number of agencies and businesses in Ipswich but there remains some big challenges in the way we care for people with complex needs who end up homeless.
"This is particularly so for those with learning disabilities and mental health issues. The majority of people whom we have talked to about their lives have disclosed at some point a history of family breakdown, abuse and violence in their childhood."
He concluded, "The therapeutic support and the understanding necessary to help them forward needs to be grown and offered across the different agencies and housing providers."
More than 300 volunteers have been welcoming the homeless as guests, cooking for those staying and eating with them.
The Ipswich Winter Night Shelter offered shelter and hospitality to people over the age of 18 who would otherwise be sleeping rough in Ipswich. The guests were able to clean and freshen up, enjoy a hot nourishing meal, spend an evening in a warm and safe place, share time in friendly company, sleep in a clean and comfortable bed and receive a breakfast in the morning before they departed for the day.
Canon Daltry said "the warmth of the hospitality and the development of a stable loving community has been the Christian hallmark of this project, and it has brought hope to a number of the guests."
Louise Brown, one of the leading night shelter organisers, said hundreds of volunteers have been working with the agencies already busy in the town to encourage the guests to receive help and advice to restore their lives, find long-term accommodation, and regain self-esteem and dignity.
The project is based on an already well established model developed by the Christian Charity Housing Justice. Projects have been running in London for more than 20 years, and are now in places like High Wycombe, Canterbury, and Luton.
It is the first time the initiative has been launched for the winter in Ipswich, building on a Christmas night shelter a few years ago.
The Ipswich Winter Night Shelter, will continue its work throughout February.