A Chester homeless charity dealing with a dramatic rise in the number of women and older people knocking on its door is getting a helping hand from a leading food wholesaler.

Chester Aid to the Homeless (CATH), which is currently dealing with up to 50 people a week at its drop-in centre on Grosvenor Street, is receiving regular donations of food from Harlech Foodservice which has a base in the city.

Charity Chief Executive Robert Whittall says the cost of living crisis has seen a big increase in the number of women and older people asking for help along with asylum seekers who have been granted the right to remain.

He has been with the charity for over 20 years and he said: “We work with anyone and everyone but the problem is now that we’re inundated.

“It’s not just that numbers have gone up but the problems they face have become more complicated.

“We are seeing different people now, a lot more older people and a lot more women as well as people who are working but finding it difficult to survive.

“There are also more refugees because once they have been granted asylum then all the support they had drops away including their accommodation food.

“There have always been a lot of young people on the streets but now there are more older people with more complex health issues because they lead more chaotic lifestyles.

“Life expectancy for a homeless person is much lower than for the rest of the population and for women it’s lower than for men, half the national average for a woman of 83.

“Women are more vulnerable and more prone to being exploited but when I first started there were very few homeless women. They were more resourceful than men and would always find a way to keep a roof over their heads.

“But we’re seeing a definite change with more women presenting as homeless – between ten and 15 per cent now.

“Society has changed and issues of drink and drugs have become worse but if you need drink or drugs then what was your issue before that?”

David Roberts, Harlech Key Account Manager, said: “We can all see that the issue of rough sleeping has grown worse over recent years and even a city like Chester has a homelessness problem.

“As a business Harlech like to make a contribution to the areas in which we operate and employ people and Chester where we have a depot, North West England and North East Wales has increased in importance to us.

“We work closely with Chester Aid To The Homeless and liaise with them to find out what they need and we then do our best to meet that need whether it is for food or for other items such as toiletries.

“It’s a startling fact that someone on the streets has a life expectancy half that of the average so we’re happy to support the fantastic work being done by Chester Aid To The Homeless.

“We also supplied the drinks for the team at CATH to treat homeless families to a performance of the panto Cinderella at the Storyhouse Theatre in Chester.”

CATH was founded in 1972 and has been delivering services to the homeless for over 50 years with its main point of contact at the Harold Tomlins Centre on Grosvenor Street which is open five days a week, nine to 10am including showers and laundry facilities and 11am-1pm for food.

They work with Soul Kitchen and Share to provide food with Soul Kitchen supplying a Saturday evening meal as well as cooking courses.

It also provides medical services and food  and has accommodation for 31 people at seven sites around the city.

CATH Service Manager Emily Stephens said: “Harlech e-mail us with what’s available and we tell them what we need and it works very well.

“We get people from all walks of life – at one time we had an aeronautical engineer who had worked on Richard Branson’s hot air balloon flights.

“Not everyone who comes here is homeless but they do need support. They’re lonely and just need someone to talk to.”

Harlech Foodservices employs over 200 staff at its three depots near Criccieth, on Sovereign Way, Chester, and in Merthyr Tydfil and runs a fleet of vehicles to deliver up to 5,000 product lines to cafés, restaurants, pubs and public sector customers across Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire, the Midlands and the North West.

For more on Harlech Foodservices go to https://www.harlech.co.uk/