Bleak New Year for those trying to keep warm under cardboard in Milton Keynes
In 2016, three homeless men died on the streets of Milton Keynes '“ the deaths of Tony Porter, James (Jimmy) Owens and Patrick Allen casting a dark shadow over the city.
Outrage and anger was followed by a demand for change and help.
But help can’t come soon enough for those who are forced to spend their days living rough, taking refuge under dirty duvets, withrags and cardboard serving as a poor excuse for a mattress.
Even more incredible than the numbers of people on the streets is the way they are treated.
A survey released in December revealed that nearly 80% of people sleeping rough said they had been deliberately hit, kicked and even urinated on in random attacks in 2016.
But while some help is now available,supposedly pushing the homelessness crisis to the top of the agenda, not enough is being done by the authorities.
Many endured a bleak Christmas on the streets, unlike those of us fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads, food in the cupboard and a Smart TV to slouch in front of.
We drove round the centre of Milton Keynes on Christmas morning trying to spread a little festive cheer by distributing pretty insignificant food parcels.
But more than the food, it was about letting them know that people do care.
It soon transpired we didn’t have nearly enough parcels.
The number of people, and their animals, huddled in underpasses, in tents and trying desperately to shelter from the cold in shop doorways and in front of hot-air vents wasn’t shocking.
That emotion had long since passed.
It was just desperately sad. Everyone deserves a warm, safe place to lay their head, and we saw too many without that necessity.
Later, we returned home, turned the heating up, popped the cork on the bubbly (after all, it was Christmas), and set about enjoying our day.
But the faces of the people we had spoken to stayed with us. We were painfully aware that far from enjoying themselves, those same people were working hard just to get through the day,
Just as they have been throughout 2016, which has seen a sharp increase in the number of homeless on our streets.
The numbers have been growing all year but when Autumn arrived, the falling leaves exposed tents that had been hidden from view during the summer months.
And in the heart of town the number of people sat cap, or paper cup in hand, begging for change, has risen dramatically.
‘But they have homes,’ people say. Some do. But many more don’t.