A PASTOR patrol service that helps vulnerable people has seen a four-fold increase in the number of hungry and homeless people it helps.
Over the past three months, the cafe at the Elim Living Waters Pentecostal Church, in Whitby Street, Hartlepool, has seen its distribution of food bags soar from between 15 and 25 over a weekend to between 60 and 100.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Email the newsdesk
The Hartlepool Mail has previously reported how members of the church have been helping those who have been marginalised by society, including drug and alcohol addicts.
But Will Semple, one of the pastors, puts the increase down to the economic crisis and says now it is not just these categories of people that are now being helped by the service.
He said: “I have been doing this for 12 years and I have never seen so many desperate people in Hartlepool.
“People say it is no different from anywhere else. But I have visited Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Darlington, and Hartlepool tops the list.
“We are now seeing prisoners, depressed people and people who are getting evicted.”
Mr Semple spoke out a week after the Mail reported that devastating Government cuts are seeing people in Hartlepool and east Durham having to rely on food handouts and could even leave people homeless.
The church, led by Reverend Colin Sawtell, is hosting an event at Peterlee Leisure Centre, in St Cuthbert’s Way, this Sunday from 10.30am-12.30pm to showcase their services and to gauge whether there is a need for a similar facility in east Durham, where the Food Emergency East Durham (FEED) project sees food parcels sent to families on the breadline.
Mr Semple, who fought a battle with drugs and alcohol for more than 30 years before, he says, finding God and going clean, is also manager of alcohol and drug services at the church, which is funded by donations from other churches and also provides temporary beds for the homeless.
He said: “It’s not getting any better. In the last three months I have never seen so many homeless people.
“There are people in their 40s homeless at the moment.
“With the economic climate, we are also dealing with people coming out of prison.
“Years ago, the prison would tell people where to get accommodation and now they stick £45 in their hand and send them on their way.”
He added that the church’s street angels, who patrol the Church Street area of town from 10pm to 3am each Friday and Saturday night to help protect revellers, have proved so successful that Cleveland Police have asked them to extend patrols to Thursday and Sunday nights.
The church is appealing for more people to be trained as street pastors, having seen the initial 21 volunteers dwindle to a dozen.
Anyone interested in becoming a street pastor or wanting to find out more about the church can call the Rev Sawtell on 07828093728.