A WHITE van is proving to be a true knight of the road in its crusade to bring a home to the homeless and end rough sleeping in west Cheshire.
From the outside the 23ft long vehicle looks like any other white van on the road, but opening its doors reveals a refuge where people in need can get food, hot drinks, a wash and get their heads down for the night.
The state-of-the-art outreach vehicle is the latest addition to Foundation Enterprises North West, which holds the homeless and rough sleeping contract for the Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWAC) area.
John Marsland, service manager for dispersed properties and outreach, said: “Ultimately the aim is to end rough sleeping, as much as we can.
“Some people choose to do it, with some people it’s because of their circumstances, maybe a family breakdown or unemployment, there’s lots and lots of different reasons why.
“Our aim is to overcome the barriers people are facing that keep them on the street.
“Our staffing structure is filled with passionate people who want to help change things for the better and make a difference.”
The £75,000 outreach vehicle, which has been with the service for the past two months, is the first step towards helping people rebuild their lives.
Its facilities include a wet room with shower, sink and toilet, a kitchen with a microwave, kettle and toaster, reclining seats offering basic bed space for three people, quilts, heating and specially designed lighting that comes into its own if anyone needs medical assistance.
John said: “We know it’s probably one of the most prehistoric forms of bed space there is but it’s better than sleeping on the side of a canal.
“People come on board and will be given a hot drink and sandwiches, they can have a shower if they want, everything they need is on board and before they leave they can have breakfast cereal.
“The vehicle is self sufficient once it’s out.
“We want to increase its use as much as we can.”
Anyone can ring the24-hour hotline if they need help themselves, see someone sleeping rough or know of a location where people regularly go.
The vehicle will then be despatched to see if it can assist.
Staff and volunteers will also help rough sleepers develop an action plan by working out what is keeping them on the streets and how it can be tackled.
“We want to get people to that place where they’re not stuck any more and understand what’s happening and why it’s happening,” John said.
“Sometimes it takes someone like us to make sense of that so they can take the opportunity to sit down and talk – we’re not the Department for Work and Pensions or the benefits agency or anything like that so we’re not seen as a threat.
“If people choose to talk to us and engage with us that’s great.
“If they choose not to then we will keep coming back and by the third or fourth time they will start to engage.”
Foundation Enterprises North West also looks after the homeless shelter Richmond Court, in Chester, and dispersed properties across the area as well as offering financial and practical help for people who want to return home.
Since it took on the CWAC contract in November 2012 it has helped more than 180 people into their own properties or to return to their families.
• The Cheshire West and Chester rough sleeping hotline is 0300 123 1562.