Post journalist sleeps rough to alert council to problem of homelessness

Lots of
regional newspaper journalists are used to getting by on tight budgets,
but Lancashire Evening Post investigative journalist Nick Owens spent a
week sleeping rough on the streets with just £40 to highlight the
problem of homelessness in Preston.

Owens slept rough in
doorways, car parks and the local homeless shelter and suffered a
catalogue of abuse from people he encountered along the way. He was
spat at and threatened.

He came into close contact with heroin
addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill people who largely make up the
homeless population, while enduring the humiliation of having to beg
for money.

Owens’ Down and Out in Preston investigation is now
helping Preston City Council to review its services for homeless people
in the city and the paper has set out a number of recommendations for
the council to consider in the coming year.

When he presented his
dossier of findings to a council meeting, he was given a standing
ovation. His recommendations include the employment of an empty houses
officer to help fill the 1,400 unoccupied homes in Preston and the
provision of drug treatment to homeless people.

Owens said: “The
reason I wanted to investigate homelessness is because it has doubled
in our patch since last year and I was keen to do it at a street level.

I experienced a range of emotions including loneliness and boredom.

There
is nothing to do and I realised why so many homeless people have mental
illnesses and problems with addiction. I am hoping some of the
recommendations to the council will be in place by the New Year.”

From
Monday, the LEP ran a weeklong account of Owens’ experiences living
with just the equivalent of benefits – £40 – and a sleeping bag.

The paper will also be donating money to homeless charities.

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