Preston homelessness charity's appeal to support rough sleepers

Jeff Marsh, Foxton Centre CEO, receiving a donation to the Preston homeless shelter.
Jeff Marsh, Foxton Centre CEO, receiving a donation to the Preston homeless shelter.

A Preston charity has vowed to continue feeding and housing the city's homeless during the coronavirus outbreak.

Now the charity's chief is calling on the public to help support Preston's rough sleepers.

Jeff Marsh, Foxton Centre CEO, says that living on the streets could make homeless people particularly vulnerable if they catch Covid-19.

He said: "Many rough sleepers have underlying heart and lung issues. They're more vulnerable as many have weakened immune systems. There is a risk of bad complications if they catch the virus.

"It's really quite frightening.

"We're all glued to our tellies listening to Boris. But homeless people don't have access to the same advice."

The homeless will now sleep in the centre's hall while emergency accommodation - two single bedrooms and a space for four people - will be used to house up to three people at a time who are self-isolating.

Volunteers will also continue to run a cafe at Foxton, which will now serve food to one rough sleeper at a time from Monday to Friday, from 9-30am to 11am, and 1 - 2pm.

"It's a small space and would have 25 people crammed in together. So, we've had to ask people to come in individually," said Jeff.

The Preston Minster team is also preparing sandwiches daily for the centre, while food and hygiene packs are being delivered to formerly homeless people who have moved on to longer term accommodation.

"It's absolutely brilliant. A fantastic offer," said Jeff.

But despite the charity's efforts to adapt to the outbreak, the CEO says the health crisis is putting pressure on the shelter.

"The issue for us is how to manage someone who becomes really ill. Testing and self-isolating are difficult here," he added.

"Hand sanitisers have been cleared off the shelves, lots of other provisions are being closed and people are struggling financially.

"But the biggest danger for us will be if volunteers become ill, so we plan to take on some more at some point.

"We have concerns about staffing levels as a couple of workers are self-isolating, one for 12 weeks. We're in the same boat as everyone else."

The emergency accommodation is designed to house people for 72 hours - but many people need to stay longer.

"I suspect those times will become longer. My understanding is that housing associations are not taking on new tenants," Jeff added.

Luckily, the community has rallied round.

Evans Vanodine International in Walton Summit has provided two five-litre containers of hand gel, while Larches High School and an elderly couple from Bamber Bridge Methodist Church have made food donations.

Cheques and online monetary donations have also been given.

"We have lots of supporters. These aren't people with lots of money but they care about their city," said Jeff.

"It's a counterbalance to the sight of supermarket shelves being stripped bare and people scrumming over toilet rolls. There are people out there who are willing to help those in a worse situation."

He added: "I'm really proud of the team here at Foxton. They've all been really positive about carrying on working and doing what they can for the vulnerable in the city.

"Seeing so many donations from the community has given everyone a lift. It's really gratifying to see that people do care about what goes on in their communities."

The centre currently has enough food and toilet rolls but is struggling for storage space.

To donate money, offer help or send positive messages to the homeless, search for the Foxton Centre on Facebook or ring 01772 555925.