Just nine homeless people used Exeter shelter on first night

Despite the opening of a temporary homeless shelter, many rough sleepers remained on Exeter’s streets last night.

The Safe Sleep project on Market Street opened its doors for the first time last night – offering up to 40 beds.

But just nine made use of the project, while the rest of Exeter’s dozens of homeless stayed outside in chilly conditions.

Helen Hoaken on Queen Street

Helen Hoaken, 35, said she had heard it was full so slept on Queen Street, opposite Marks and Spencer.

She said: “There is a curfew too which I can appreciate but I thought it was full so I didn’t manage to go.”

Instead Helen slept on Queen Street, opposite Marks and Spencer, and was harassed by a group of drunken men.

She said: “It was just your typical drunks, a group of men said they would give me a tenner in exchange for me to perform a sex act on them all.

“It’s just typical really, people see us out on the streets and that’s what they think of us – that’s nothing, we usually get treated a lot worse.”

Helen said she hoped tonight she would be able to get into the Safe Sleep project.

Luke West’s camp on South Street

Another person who didn’t make it to the project was 24-year-old Luke West who used to live in Cranbrook.

When the Echo spoke to Luke last month he described how he was coping sleeping outside in freezing temperatures. Last year he had pneumonia.

“I didn’t know that the shelter was open,” Luke said, “It took so long for it happen I didn’t here about it.”

Last night Luke stayed outside a doorway in the now-defunct BHS store on South Street, covered in duvets.

He said: “I think the reason some might decide to stay away from the shelter is some people just don’t want to be inside.”

Luke West pictured right with his friend

Meanwhile Justin, 39, and Tia, 30, who have been camping outside of the same store further along South Street also chose not to go to the shelter.

Justin said: “I should be getting back into my flat soon, Tia doesn’t want to go there though or to the shelter and I don’t want to leave her so I stay with her.”

Tia said: “The problem is because it is separated at the hostel between girls and boys, I don’t get along with a lot of the women who are homeless and I’d worry about my safety.

“I have OCD too, I like to keep things clean. I don’t think I could trust anyone there.”

Justin and Tia at their camp outside BHS on South Street

A director of Julian House – the charity who helped make the Safe Sleep project come to fruition – said it was a successful first night and it would take time to encourage more people to use the shelter.

John Isserlis, said: “The first night went very smoothly but we are hoping to build on tonight, it’s very much going to be an evolutionary project – we will adjust as time goes on to suit our clients.

“One of the best ways we can get more people in using the shelter is through word of mouth from client to client.

“Once people have stayed they will tell their friends and they will end up bringing more people, but it is always difficult with a new project at the beginning as people are resistant to change.”

Mr Isserlis gave the Echo an exclusive tour around the site yesterday; answering questions from the public live on Facebook.

He said they had been touched by the generosity from readers with one woman driving up from Exmouth to donate curtains, dog food and clothing after watching the interview online.

Mr Isserlis said they still needed towels, crockery and blankets and would accept any donations for easy-to-prepare food.

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