Wiltshire Council is encouraging rough sleepers to engage with other offers of accommodation, rather than use tents.

The latest official count carried out by the council found that there were 13 rough sleepers in Wiltshire.

The authority was asked by the Local Democracy Reporting scheme for its view on the use of tents by rough sleepers in the county after comments by the ex-Home Secretary Suella Braverman who had made calls for them to be banned.

But Doorway, a charity in Chippenham providing support for people who are homeless or rough sleeping, claim that the estimated number of homeless in Wiltshire is unrealistic, as is the call for people not to use tents.

CEO Jo Kitching says: “We’re seeing way more people now than we were even a couple of years ago, it has kind of doubled since 2020.

"This is not as a result of COVID, it’s a result of poor housing policy and the fact that people are living in poverty much more than they were and being evicted.”

Jo said that in their support sessions they see an average of about six people, sometimes up to 13, who are rough sleeping each week, just in Chippenham.

She says that the national method used to count rough sleepers is not the council’s fault but is a “pointless exercise” that “gives a false picture.”

The charity CEO does not believe that discouraging the use of tents is helpful to rough sleepers. 

She says: “It’s absolute nonsense to suggest that there is anywhere for people to go, there is no temporary accommodation available in Chippenham at the moment, it’s all full.

And the problem is that there is nowhere for people that have been there a couple of years to move on either.”

She adds: “The council cannot say that they don’t want to see people living in tents when they are not giving them any other option.

“We don’t want to give out tents, because we have to buy them and they are expensive.

“If there were any other options, we would not be doing it.

“Nobody wants to give people tents, but can you imagine saying goodbye to somebody at the door, knowing they’re going to be outside, and not giving them at least that little element of protection?”

According to Jo, the charity expects to give out up to 40 rough sleeper packs next year, which include a tent and sleeping bag, as well as other essential items such as a foil blanket.

She concluded: “We don’t want to fall out with the council, we need to be able to work well with them, but it is really frustrating when our work is undermined by their statements.”

Wiltshire Council says it currently supports around 100 people affected by rough sleeping, the majority of whom are now in some form of accommodation, which remains available to others.

It explains that the most common incidents that cause rough sleeping are relationship breakdowns and rent arrears.

The council requests that residents report people sleeping rough so that a member of the outreach team can make contact with them.

It asks for as much information as possible such as where and when the person was seen and a short physical description, including of any animals with them.

Among other support, the outreach team at the council offer help with housing applications, obtaining ID, registering with a GP, engaging with a substance abuse service and setting up a bank account.

Councillor Richard Clewer, leader of Wiltshire Council said: “We want to see all rough sleepers suitably housed.

"We don’t want to force people, we want to engage with them through the constant outreach, until we can get them at a point where they are willing to accept the help and then house them.”