A Chippenham charity for the homeless is urging residents to be kinder to local street sleepers – after one had his tent set on fire.

As temperatures plunge and rough sleepers approach their most perilous time of the year the Doorway charity has revealed the risks faced by the homeless currently living on the streets of Chippenham, Calne and Trowbridge.

“Being homeless is traumatic, you cannot imagine how horrific it is to be living outside all the time,” said Doorway director Jo Kitching.

“There’s a safety risk too, people get beaten up, robbed and their tents set on fire. We had a case of that locally, his tent was totally destroyed.”

The charity chief said that the several homeless trying to survive in the three towns also face the risk of dying their conditions.

“The average life expectancy of the homeless is 46, it is really is shocking. We’ve got one chap in Chippenham who has been on the streets since August,” she said.

“People can become homeless for all sorts of reasons; eviction, domestic abuse, unless you’ve got a private income everyone is just a couple of pay cheques away from it.”

The director called on the public to show more kindness to those who are often on the streets through no fault of their own.

“Don’t judge these people,” she said, “It’s very easy to judge and think ‘oh, he’s done something wrong’ but most of the time they’ve not done anything and they may just be a victim of abuse, or they’ve lost their job or they have mental health problems.

“If you see someone on the street, say good morning, just have a chat, because they often report to us that they just feel invisible.”

The charity is also calling on Wiltshire Council to provide more single-bed places for those sleeping on the streets, claiming that the council has only come up with two flats in the past 18 months.

“It’s almost a situation now where we need to build alms houses again,” said Jo Kitching, “it’s very difficult, we need more single-room houses but there’s a massive shortage of accommodation. The waiting list for Wiltshire homes is now something like 4,000-long.”

Cllr Phil Alford, Wiltshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “The need for social housing in Wiltshire is extremely high, which is no different to any other local authority as this is a national issue.

“Due to the high demand for housing we have committed to build or purchase an additional 1,000 properties over a ten year period to help meet the needs of our residents.

“In regards to rough sleepers we have an experienced rough sleeper team who are dedicated to providing advice and support to any rough sleeper in Wiltshire.

“Since January 21 2021, we have managed to provide accommodation for 130 rough sleepers in Wiltshire and this work continues.

“With the support of Central Government, we have been able to purchase three one-bed properties and a three-bed house dedicated for the use of rough sleepers and we are currently in the process of purchasing a further three one-bed and a three-bed property, for rough sleepers.

“In addition, we have a two-bed property and a seven-bed hostel dedicated to supporting our ongoing work with rough sleepers.”