A WIRRAL homeless charity has opened a community night shelter to help tackle a rise in rough sleeping across the borough.

Using the resources and support of the whole community, Wirral Ark's winter night shelter is running for eight weeks at nine venues which would otherwise be empty overnight as part of the Arklight Project.

Described as a lifeline for homeless people, it promises a warm welcome, comfy bed, hot meal and breakfast.

It is a pilot scheme, but the long-term plan is to run the shelter every winter collaborating with the community to take action on homelessness.

The venues being used as overnight shelters are Birkenhead Library, Age UK Wirral, the Salvation Army Rock Ferry Church, Christchurch Bebington, Wirral Gateway Church, The Spire / St Luke's Wallasey, St Michael's and All Angels Pensby, St Andrews Community Church / Oxton St Saviours and The Meeting Place.

Each venue opens its doors on a designated night, between 7pm-9am, and is staffed by trained volunteers.

Wirral Ark assess and refer all 'guests' - they are not referred to as 'clients' or 'service users - to the Arklight project ensuring they get the level of support they need.

Inside the venue, 12 comfy beds with matching duvets are carefully arranged, each with its own chair and a care package sits at the end of each bed containing toiletries and other essentials.

Guests say that without Arklight they would be sleeping in tents on the waterfront.

According to its co-ordinator Jackie Snell, Wirral Ark's business development manager, the participating venues have been overwhelmed with donations of clothing and toiletries from churches, local businesses, schools, Rotary groups and Girl Guides.

Jackie said: "We made an appeal in November 2018 for help and could never have predicted the response we've received.

"We've trained over 300 volunteers and support has come in many forms from church groups knitting hats, school children donating toiletries, to the library opening its doors.

"Wirral Ark is passionate about ending homelessness, we work to tackle the root causes of homelessness but the fact remains that with ever increasing numbers the current system is struggling to cope.

"Arklight is a lifeline to people who fall into crisis and those who are waiting to be housed with homeless services".

Volunteer Bob Fiddaman said: "Arklight is about more than providing a roof over the head of homeless people.

"At the heart of the project is to provide hospitality and welcome to homeless people which is why we refer to people who access the shelter as 'guests' not 'service users' or 'clients'".

Among those who have used the shelter is Matt, who said: ".. sometimes life is hard, too hard to handle, but the people at (Arklight) have softened the blows with love, respect and generosity".

This is a sentiment echoed by Brian, who has also been using the shelter after splitting with his partner and says getting a bed at Arklight has helped him keep safe and out of trouble while he waits to be accommodated.

The recent official rough sleeper count, a snap shot of visible rough sleeping each November, showed that in 2018 Wirral had a 46% rise in rough sleeping in the past three years.

Another driver for the project is the growing waiting lists for local homeless services.

Wirral Ark's 27 bedroom hostel currently has a waiting list of over 50 homeless people who are forced to use squats, sofa surf with friends and family or sleep rough while they wait to be accommodated.