AT LEAST 20 per cent of homeless people using Newquay's largest soup kitchen have a serious drug addiction.
Service manager Alan Lee, who feeds up to 30 people at the United Reformed Church (URC), four times a week, told the Cornish Guardian at least six of the rough sleepers or 'sofa surfers' he saw at the kitchen clearly had a drug problem.
Mr Lee, who is also chairman of the town's Homeless Action Group, said: "In the soup kitchen here we know there are drug addicts coming through.
"There are people addicted to prescription drugs; people on methadone; people on heroin. Some of them talk to me about it, but it's always easy to tell."
A report by Cornwall's Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT) identifies a strong link between drug use and homelessness, as well as mental health problems.
The Adult Drug Treatment Needs Assessment reveals Newquay has the county's largest number of drug users undergoing treatment.
It says a lack of accommodation is the biggest obstacle for addicts wanting to kick their habit: "This remains the single most significant gap in our ability to deliver recovery locally."
Mr Lee said Newquay had suffered since losing 29 beds offered by the PAS housing support organisation, leaving it with around 20 beds, offered through providers such as Stoneham, St Petroc's and Chapter 1. "People are finding it difficult to get off the street," he said.
Outreach workers from mental health charity Mind and homelessness charity St Petroc's come to the soup kitchens to ensure that homeless people and addicts have a chance to engage with support and healthcare agencies.
Mr Lee said he referred addicts to Mind, which had direct links with drug and mental health agencies. They could be put in touch with health services and a treatment process begun.
Newquay was a hotspot for homelessness – and, by association, drug abuse – because many saw it as a vibrant seaside town where they could leave their old lives behind and start afresh, he said. When the dream fell flat, they discovered there were good support facilities available in the town to help them. The URC offered clothes and food, as well as a postal address allowing people to obtain birth certificates, for example, and register for benefits.
He said this might explain why theft hadn't rocketed in a town with the highest percentage of drug addicts in Cornwall; with no need to steal to buy "basics", their disposable cash could be spent on drugs and alcohol, he suggested.
Mr Lee said it was vital to secure a temporary night shelter this winter after around six people died on the streets last year. The project is being led by St Columb Minor's vicar Chris McQuillen-Wright.
"It will mean that hopefully we won't have people dying in bus shelters and back alleys this winter," said Mr Lee.