A homeless man was left with swollen and blistered fingers from carrying his life in suitcases while sleeping rough.

Greg (not his real name) spent one winter homeless, with nowhere to sleep and having to walk around Watford town centre from 7am every day.

Anxious to keep his possessions with him, he carried them in suitcases with him wherever he went.

Eventually, this lifestyle took its toll on his health, and his hands.

He said: “Whilst being homeless, I could only manage to get about three or four hours sleep. I was out in town from 7am or 8am.

"I had to take all my suitcases around with me – keeping my possessions on me was important at the time.

"I’d go to the library then walk around the high street for a while with my suitcases. It hurt my hands carrying them all day and I got blisters. My fingers were swollen for days.

"It was cold and there were not a lot of places where I could go, dragging my suitcases around.

"The last three hours of my day was spent in McDonald's waiting for people.

"My shoes were worn so my feet used to get wet and I didn’t have gloves so my hands were always freezing."

Then Greg spoke to a volunteer at homeless charity Shelter who told him to go to the police station.

After speaking to police, they referred him to Watford-based charity New Hope.

Greg entered New Hope's crisis accommodation which is provided all year round.

He said: “After I was referred to the charity I was relieved as I had somewhere to stay and I wasn’t worried about where I was going to sleep that night.

"I think I’m getting the support I need as people who work here know what is needed. I just need to find a suitable job and somewhere permanent to live.”

Greg used emergency accommodation just before the charity opened its first winter night shelter.

New Hope is again working with Watford Borough Council to open its second winter night shelter from December 1 to March 31.

Watford Observer:

Last year's winter night shelter accommodation. Photo: New Hope.

The charity and council were inspired to open a winter shelter by a national initiative called SWEP (severe weather emergency protocol), which encourages local authorities and homelessness providers to provide emergency accommodation in the winter.

The shelter at One YMCA is volunteer-led but groups such as Watford BID have previously helped to provide food from restaurants and cafes.

New Hope CEO Matthew Heasman said: “105 people accessed the shelter last winter. We’re extending the shelter to four months because it really is a life-saving operation.”

By housing people in its winter shelter, the charity hopes to be able to extend its reach and help more rough sleepers.

Throughout the year, the charity offers regular emergency shelter called the Haven and has outreach volunteers who try to help rough sleepers in the street.

But there are many difficulties as not many rough sleepers are ready for help. But the winter shelter can at least keep them safe at night throughout the cold months.

Watford Observer:

Winter night shelter. Photo: New Hope.

Mr Heasman said: “In rough sleeping, 80 per cent are male and 20 percent are female. That represents the gender balance nationally.

“Around about half have mental health issues which creates a complexity in the group.

“One-third have substance abuse issues and then others spiral into homelessness from other triggers such a relationship breakdown and redundancy.

“People associate homelessness with addiction. People in that situation are often desperate.

“They’re sleeping in a skip or in a bush and sometimes will turn to addiction as a means of coping.”

He also adds that they may spiral into addiction after experiencing trauma.

Watford mayor Peter Taylor said: “Homelessness is definitely one of our priorities.

"An important thing to remember is most people sleeping rough won't beg.

"It is easy to have an image of what a homeless people looks like, but most of them you would have walked past in the street and had no idea.

"But a strength in Watford is that we are good at bringing people together."

The service knows every rough sleeper in Watford by name but admits many rough sleepers go under the radar either by choice or because they are in difficult circumstances.

To learn more about the winter night shelter, go to www.newhope.org.uk/news/2019/11/13/watford-winter-shelter-opens