ORGANISERS of a charity dedicated for nearly half a century to helping homeless people in and around Chester are planning to expand their services.

Homelessness – men and women who are sleeping rough as well as those who have lost their homes in a variety of circumstances – is a growing problem across the United Kingdom.

It is a situation described as a "national issue and an absolute national disgrace" by Robert Bisset, chief executive officer of Chester Aid to the Homeless (CATH), but the organisation he heads is determined to do more to help people in need by increasing the number of properties it has in the city.

"Homelessness in this city is at unacceptable levels," he told the AGM of CATH held at The Bluecoat in Upper Northgate Street recently. "We are facing a big challenge."

Mr Bisset said the charity needed to give some hope to people who fall victim to being homeless.

CATH chairman, Cllr Bob Rudd, told the meeting the charity relied on the "goodwill and good nature of the people of Chester to finance it".

"We will help anybody in need, which is what the ethos of CATH has been since 1972 when it was first set up," he said.

"We are a leading charity in the city and long may that continue."

CATH already manages half a dozen properties in the Chester area and is now looking out for private landlords who would be able to lease a house or houses to the charity to enable the organisation to expand its social housing service.

In an advertisement, CATH states: "The charity has a four-man team supporting the properties and tenants 24/7.

"The charity takes full responsibility for the property, giving the landlord total peace of mind and guaranteed rental payments.

"The charity takes up the lease, paying all costs and rent monthly through a direct debit arrangement."

CATH finance director Neil Wallace said in the last financial year the organisation received £146,000 in grants and donations from the people of Cheshire. "And we are eternally grateful for that support."

That generous sum is added to investment and income gains and charitable activity income but about £315,000 is needed annually to run facilities at CATH's Harold Tomlins Centre in Grosvenor Street and at other accommodation.

The meeting was addressed by Cllr Richard Beacham, Cheshire West and Chester Council cabinet member for Housing, Regeneration and Growth, who said CATH's work in the city was "certainly valued by members of the current administration".

In a wide-ranging speech Cllr Beacham said homelessness was a "highly complicated problem". "It is getting worse and is not getting better," he said.

"Trying to help people in vulnerable positions should always be in our minds."

Cllr Beacham said the council favoured "targeted individual working" with men and women who become homeless or are long-term rough sleepers and said that, in a limited number of cases, "drug dealers preying on people are the real enemy".

"[This drugs issue] is a cancer on our streets."

In national terms the councillor highlighted the "absolute mess of reducing funding" and said the cost to the council of providing bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless victims was "absolutely astronomical".