A NEWBURY business director is calling for more to be done to help the homeless back into work after discovering one of his own employees had been living in a tent.
Managing director of Swift Group, Adrian Smith, said he was “outraged” to find out one of his temporary workers was forced to sleep rough and has now taken on the 28-year-old on a full-time basis and paid for him to stay in a hotel so he can save up for a deposit on more permanent accommodation.
However, Mr Smith, who has around 120 full-time employees working for his Hambridge Lane-based firm, has called on politicians, local authorities and businesses to work together to find ways to get homeless people into employment.
He said: “I came to work and there were paramedics treating one of our temps who had had an epileptic fit.
“After speaking with him it turned out he hadn’t been getting the medication because he was living in a tent at the end of Hambridge Lane.
“This is the 21st century in West Berkshire and I’ve got people living in sleeping bags when it’s minus four degrees outside.
“These are working people – they didn’t choose to put themselves there. I was outraged. And I was ashamed because I’m part of the establishment. People need to start doing something to stop this happening.”
Mr Smith feels companies, who he says profit from people in the local community, need to be given incentives to take rough sleepers on to their workforce and has called on Newbury MP Richard Benyon and West Berkshire Council to get involved in the issue.
“Businesses can’t identify these people themselves, but the council will have a list of those sleeping in hostels and temporary accommodation,” Mr Smith said.
“Working with the council, working with local landlords we can highlight the right people, get them into our work places and into safe housing.
“You never know, now, in 10 years time he may be able to afford his own house, or in 10 weeks time he could have frozen to death sleeping in a tent.”
The logistics firm director suggested tax breaks in order to provide the incentive for businesses to take on the homeless.
And, while he admits any such system may be open to abuse, at least, for him, it is a chance he is willing to take to “do the right thing”.
“If we want to step over these people and pretend they aren’t there, if your stomach’s strong enough, that’s fine – mine isn’t,” he said.
“There are people who are out there who want to work.
“I may get it wrong, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.”
MP Richard Benyon said Mr Smith’s actions should be applauded, adding he was “really up” for a conversation with people about how to improve the help offered to the homeless in West Berkshire.
He said: “I’ve agreed to meet with Mr Smith to hopefully get him involved in the conversations we are having with organisations like Loose Ends.
“It’s a complex issue, but I’m absolutely determined to see us in a better situation in the months and years ahead.”