The problem of homelessness never seems to go away. JAMES WATSON spoke to three men whose lives have been affected by life on the streets, and looks at how efforts are being made to improve the situation

IT IS a sad fact that anyone could end up homeless.

Charities working with the homeless say it can take only three months for a middle-class professional to find him or herself living on the streets.

All it takes is redundancy, divorce and a default on the mortgage repayments to create a spiral which some find difficult to get out of.

It is not known how many people sleep rough in Swindon because of the problems in keeping track of homeless people. The homless themselves say between 20 and 30 people sleep in the town centre's streets and car parks every night.

Matt Cornish, spokesman for homeless charity Shelter, said: "People sometimes forget that homelessness can happen to anyone.

"It could be a vulnerable young person running away from home and with no idea where to turn for help, a woman fleeing domestic violence in the middle of the night, a couple splitting up, leaving one or both of them with out a home.

"People can be struggling with their rent or mortgage and lose some or all of their income.

"If people don't seek help or get proper advice, they can find it impossible to cope and being made homeless."

Arleen Griffin, Swindon Council's housing needs manager, explained that the council acts as a starting point for homeless people and if it is unable to help directly, it will be able to give details of other organisations.

The first thing a homeless person must do is to meet a housing officer to discover whether he or she fits into a priority group, such as having ill or mental health problems or having a child.

If they fall into a priority group the council must find housing for them in temporary accommodation. If the homeless person is single and healthy then the council can only offer housing advice.

In Swindon, there are five major hostels for homeless people. Culvery Court in Harding Street and Davis House in Turl Street are both direct access, meaning that anyone can visit and ask if there is a space. Other large hostels are GSS Platform for women in Bath Road, Radnor House in Radnor Street for men and the Swindon Foyer in Bath Road, to which you have to be referred for a place.

Mrs Griffin said: "We can refer someone to a hostel such as Davis House, give them a list of private lets or offer information on the Swindon Key Scheme which helps people fund a deposit on private lets.

"We can also offer advice on where people with drug and alcohol problems can get help."

Mrs Griffin explained that there are two different ways of defining someone who is homeless those without a roof and without a home.

Someone living on the streets would technically be roofless, because they do not have any building to sleep in.

But a woman living in a refuge because of an abusive husband, for example, would still be considered homeless because she does not have a home of her own to go to.

Tenants living in shoddy housing or faced with big rent increases are being urged to ring a new telephone helpline. Shelter, the national housing charity, has set up a hotline exclusively for people in Swindon struggling with rogue landlords or other housing problems.

The Shelter office is in Bristol, but residents of Swindon can ring a special number (0117) 924 8367 on any Tuesday afternoon.

In addition, they can leave a message on a different number (0117) 924 1500 between 10am and 1pm on Monday or between 1pm and 4pm on Thursdays.