Winter nights sleeping in an archway is a horrifying thought for many, but for Susan Parkinson there was little choice.
Her house in Welland is so uninhabitable due to mould and damp, she claimed, that she sleeps in the city centre,
“I’ve deliberately had to put myself on the streets so I can breath,” she said.
Susan is spotted sitting in a sleeping bag outside HSBC on the corner of Bridge Street. Behind her is partner John Emery, and sat next to her is another rough sleeper who claims he is not allowed inside a hostel because he has a dog.
It has gone 11pm as Susan tells her story and the city centre is largely deserted, as it has been for most of the past hour-and-a-half. It is only when the clock goes past 11.30 does there seem to be any activity, as a group of intoxicated men in suits ask for somewhere to go for a drink.
Fortunately, it is a mild February night, but for Susan it is another evening where she will walk across Cathedral Square and sleep in the archway next to Boots Opticians.
It could have all been different, as 30 minutes ago she was speaking to Sarah Hebblethwaite, deputy housing needs manager at Peterborough City Council.
Ms Hebblethwaite had asked if she wanted somewhere to sleep overnight and Sarah and John both said yes.
Sarah said: “This is the first time they have ever offered me anything. It’s because other people are with them. I’ve been on the streets three-and-a-half months.”
However, it is too late in the evening for the couple to be accommodated, so Susan is told to see a housing needs officer the next day and to make sure she takes up the offer of overnight accommodation from now on.
All this unfolds more than an hour after three groups of councillors, council officers and journalists had left the Town Hall to try and speak to rough sleepers.
The officers regularly go out in the early hours for this purpose, and for the councillors this was an opportunity to watch them in action.
Many of them are members of a council working group which has been set up to review the authority’s approach to managing rough sleeping.
This has largely been prompted by the noticeable rise of beggars and rough sleepers in the city centre, and the controversial decision by the council to spend £8,000 on two guards to patrol St Peter’s Arcade - a key pathway onto Bridge Street - for 19 days over Christmas and the New Year.
The arcade was a popular resting place for several of the city’s rough sleepers, but there were concerns about needles being found in the vicinity.
With the working group having to make its recommendations next month, and the council claiming every rough sleeper is offered support, the walkabout is an important opportunity for councillors to make observations.
After an hour-long briefing from council officers, the Peterborough Telegraph set-off at 10pm with the group which included council chief executive Gillian Beasley.
We walked through the arcade, which was empty, and onto Cowgate where we met three Slovakian men in sleeping bags outside the former Post Office. Ms Hebblethwaite asked the men if they knew what help was available to them and one said “yes.”
She then double-checked that they didn’t want to be put in overnight accommodation before the group walked off.
What followed was an hour searching for more elusive rough sleepers at the back of Westgate Church, and on Midgate and Long Causeway.
But, it was only on the way back that we stopped by Susan and her two companions at around 11pm.
Shortly afterwards, though, everyone left, with some people going into the Town Hall for sandwiches and coffee. But the Peterborough Telegraph stayed outdoors to listen to Susan’s story.
It had gone 11.30pm when we said our goodbyes, and with nobody from the council left to speak to we put Susan’s story to the authority the following day.
A spokesman said: “We are in contact with Miss Parkinson and have arranged for a housing enforcement officer to visit the premises, which are privately owned, for an assessment.
“If it is found the premises are in an unsuitable condition for living we will make arrangements for an offer of an emergency accommodation to Miss Parkinson, and contact the landlord to discuss bringing the premises to a suitable, liveable state.”
. There are an estimated 21 rough sleepers on Peterborough’s streets, according to the city council.
That figure, based from evidence on one evening, is the highest since 2010.
. As of Thursday last week, the council had 23 households staying in Travelodges as temporary accommodation.
Another 28 are currently living in St Michael’s Gate, Parnwell.
. The number of empty homes in the city has fallen from over 800 in 2009 to 540 in 2016.
In the past four years more than 820 empty homes have been brought back into use.
. The council has The New Haven Night Shelter in Towler Street, which provides 18 single homeless people with short stay supported accommodation.
. Light Project Peterborough runs from December 12, 2016 to March 12, 2017. Under the project, a different church every night is used to give rough sleepers a bed and meal.