From a tent to a room in just eight hours

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A former soldier who was sleeping in a tent in a cemetery has moved into a shared house in less than eight hours thanks to city council officers.

Members of the council’s enforcement team visited Steven Riley, who had been living in a tent in Canterbury Cemetery, Becket Avenue, just before 8am on Thursday 10 January to issue the 59-year-old man with a tent removal notice.

One of the council’s enforcement officers, who has himself served in the forces, had come across Steven on a number of occasions previously and had begun to build a relationship with him. He was determined to persuade Steven to overcome his suspicions of the council and seek help.

Steven said: “I was convinced that as a single man the council would not be able to help me. That is certainly the perception on the street.”

However, on their return to the council’s offices the enforcement team briefed their housing colleagues just in case Steven overcame his scepticism and came to the offices.

Steven arrived at the council offices in Military Road at lunchtime and, after a full assessment of his needs, the team was able to identify that a room in a shared house in Canterbury was suitable. One was available from 4pm that day.

He said: “I was gobsmacked, just bowled over, at how quickly the process worked from going into the council’s offices to getting some real help. I would urge rough sleepers to do the same as me and ask for help.

“They need to be brutally honest about their situation rather than telling people what they think they want to hear. I got the right end result.”

Those needing help should come to the council’s offices in Military Road or call 01227 862518.

Cllr Joe Howes, deputy chairman of Canterbury City Council’s Community Committee, said: “I am pleased the persistence of our officers has paid off and they have made a real difference to someone’s life. There is an incredible amount of work going on behind the scenes to tackle rough sleeping by charities like Catching Lives and Porchlight with the support of our officers.

“Housing and homelessness are at the top of the council’s agenda evidenced by our creation of a social lettings agency, our review of temporary accommodation and the support we’re giving to people at risk of becoming homeless. We have also recruited an empty homes officer dedicated to bringing them back into use and bought 40 family homes for use as social housing since 2015.”

Cllr Pat Todd, Deputy Leader of the Council and its Armed Forces Champion, said: “Supporting those who have left the armed services is really important to us especially as we take a leading role locally on the Armed Forces Covenant. Pride can sometimes get in the way of veterans asking for help but there is absolutely no shame in doing so.”

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