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City homelessness charity launches ‘myth-busting’ survey

An Exeter based homelessness charity launches a survey today aimed at raising awareness of the causes of homelessness, while also giving an insight into the life of people sleeping on the streets.

It’s believed to be the first opinion gathering poll of its kind in the city and St Petrock’s staff hope it will provide valuable information about people’s attitudes and knowledge about rough sleepers and the causes of homelessness, which will help inform the charity’s communications and fundraising plans.

Visits to St Petrock’s have soared

There are currently between 25 and 35 rough sleepers in Exeter on a typical night, however, St Petrock’s has seen the number of visits to its centre in Cathedral Yard, between April 2023 and March 2024, soar by almost one third, compared with the previous year.

There were more than 8000 visits to St Petrock’s for support in the past year, an average of 32 drop-ins a day. 

Over 12,000 breakfasts and lunches were served to rough sleepers and people in insecure housing from our kitchen, an average of 49 each weekday.

Providing a voice for people without a home

Peter Stephenson, St Petrock’s Director, said: “One of the ways we help our clients, in addition to providing survival services and other support, is to speak out on their behalf and help them make their own voices heard.  People with no home feel invisible to those making decisions which affect their lives, which can be crushing.

“Our experience from talking with the public, with business and with council leaders is that there is a lot of concern and care out there for our clients, which is really heartening. However, there is often some misunderstanding about why people end up on the streets. Also, the political focus seems to be almost exclusively on rough sleeping, which the visible tip of the homelessness iceberg, with other forms of homelessness largely ignored, which results in the “hidden homeless” not getting the help they need, which in turn means that many of these will tragically end up rough sleeping. So, busting some popular myths is also an important aspect of what we’re trying to achieve.

“Attempts by those who should know better to portray homelessness as a lifestyle choice does not help, although thankfully most people are smart enough to see the ridiculousness of this suggestion. But we’re really concerned that the sloppy wording in the Criminal Justice Bill making its way through Parliament, which could be misused to criminalise rough sleepers and fuel hostility towards people struggling to survive each day, many of whom already experience abuse, even here in Exeter.

“Our work seems to be needed more than ever. We’ve seen a steady increase in the number of people we support each year since the “Everyone In” initiative in the early days of the pandemic. With soaring rents and the increased cost of living pricing people out of their homes and putting increased strain on families, we’re very concerned that homelessness is likely to get worse before it gets better.”

Other questions in the survey relate to the life expectancy of a person who is homeless long-term, why a rough sleeper might not have a job and what survival services our clients might need.

During 2022, the number of rough sleepers in Exeter doubled and have become the ‘new normal’ for the city.

Mr Stephenson continued: “We would really appreciate it if residents would take a few moments to complete our survey which will help us understand people’s attitudes and knowledge and will form ‘a snapshot’ of the picture in 2024.”

St Petrock’s homelessness awareness survey will be live until Friday 28 June and all those who have completed the online poll will be entered into a prize draw to win £50 of vouchers from Petrock’s Place, our vintage clothing shop, based in Paris Street.