A FRESH pledge has been made to tackle homelessness in Bicester as more rough sleepers 'than ever before' camp in the town centre.

Tents, mattresses and sheets can be seen dotted around Sheep Street as rough sleepers have set up camp in doorways and churchyards.

Salvation Army captain for the area Will Pearson said shoppers' donations and 'attention' can be a big draw for rough sleepers.

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He said: "It is more visible and certainly more people are rough sleeping on Sheep Street than ever before.

"But I don’t think there are more rough sleepers than a year ago just seems to be more people choosing to sleep or make camp in Sheep Street.

The Oxford Times:

"I don’t think there is one particular reason for this: it is partly to do with people often getting a lot more attention in the town centre – that can be an attraction, plus the sheer volume of stuff donated, especially over Christmas, was massive: bags and bag full of clothes – it was way over the top [compared to recent years]."

Mr Pearson said his charity would not encourage donations to anyone begging in Sheep Street as it could 'make things worse'.

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He said: "We would discourage it. I would say be kind to them but don’t give them stuff as it doesn’t help.

"Anything expensive may well be sold; it is not necessary or helpful and it is becoming hard to move people into accommodation because of that.

"Anything they need we can give them, all the people sleeping rough around Sheep Street we know very well. They can come to us once or twice a week, they can get food, sleeping bags, clothes, anything they need."

The Oxford Times:

Bicester Salvation Army hosts two drop-in sessions a week, not only for those experiencing homelessness but also for anyone affected by addiction.

It hands out clothing, bedding and food thanks to the support of local town businesses such as Pret, Tesco and Fresh Direct.

The group says it now sees about 40 people a week – double that of the same time last year – with roughly half of its visitors being homeless and a third of that number rough sleeping.

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Mr Pearson said this was down to a number of factors including the charity offering more services, as well as the introduction of Universal Credit.

He added: "Universal Credit works very well for some people, but for our clients it is almost impossible as you need a bank account, mobile phone, and home address. Without these half our clients struggle to even apply.

"I also think it is bonkers Bicester doesn't have a job centre, it is very difficult to persuade people to pay a £10 return trip to Banbury."

The Oxford Times:

The charity hopes to build on its volunteers as part of a newly-formed 'Bicester Salvation Army - Fight Club' on Facebook.

The group has already gained almost 150 members hoping to help tackle homelessness.

Cherwell District Council has also pledged to back to charity's efforts and said it is working locally with those at risk of homelessness and as of this week anyone already rough sleeping.

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The council's lead member for housing John Donaldson said the council hopes to get funding for 10 extra beds for rough sleepers, to add to the 24 its funds elsewhere in the county. It is also working to secure funding for rough sleeper coordinator and support worker posts.

He added: "Even one person sleeping out on the streets is one too many; there is no room for complacency. Cherwell is being proactive about doing more to protect those at risk of rough sleeping."