The number of homeless and poor people seeking food assistance on the doorstep of Croydon Town Hall has reached record levels, according to a report from a local charity.
Nightwatch’s Annual Report for 2014 highlights a dramatic increase since 2013 in the number of clients visiting the Queen’s Gardens on Sunday evenings when volunteers provide food and clothing.
The report states: “For the first time the number of people in the gardens exceeded 100 on a Sunday night. This is in keeping with a general upward trend.”
There has also been a sharp rise in weekday numbers over the past two years, first highlighted in Nightwatch’s 2013 Report.
This finding is echoed by volunteers at the Rapture Ministries Church who are responsible for distributing food on Monday evenings.
‘‘A couple of weeks ago we had about 80 people here,’’ said Adrian Taylor 56, of Addiscombe, a volunteer with the church. ‘‘That’s a heck of a lot.’’
The work of local charities may be further stretched if they are forced to relocate from the Queen’s Gardens once the adjoining Taberner House, the former Council headquarters, is demolished and replaced by residential housing.
Pastor Joseph Stephenson, 61, who leads Rapture Ministries’ work, would like greater support from the Croydon Council to meet increasing demands.
‘‘The local authorities should be able to at least contribute something to organisations that have been out here for many years trying to help the community,’’ he said.
Jad Adams, Nightwatch chairman, however, welcomed the plan to redevelop the space for housing.
The rise in vulnerable people needing support from the charity is believed to be directly linked to the current housing crisis as many clients are not actually homeless, but are either struggling to pay rent or to find accommodation in the first place.
‘The problem is the availability of property, the reluctance of private landlords to let to council tenants, and the spiralling value of housing,” Adams said.
“We value any residential building in Croydon. We want there to be more housing, preferably some of it social housing.’’
Irrespective of the reason why someone needs to visit the Queen’s Gardens, all clients are treated equally.
”Life has just turned upside down for them,” said Stephenson. “Some have run businesses, have been married with families and lived what would be considered a respectable life.”
This support is greatly valued by clients such as Lydia, a 38-year old recovering alcoholic, who recently became homeless.
‘‘We appreciate what they do because they don’t have to come here, but they do it every week,” she said.
“It’s because of their generosity that we can eat.”