AN OPPOSITION councillor last night branded a secret summit into the city’s growing homeless problem as a “missed opportunity”.

Coxford councillor Don Thomas said his independent party, ‘Putting People First’, were not invited to the closed meeting – held over the weekend without the public or press.

Councillor Thomas claims that his ward may be one of the worst in the city for “hidden homeless”.

And he believes members of his party, as well as members of the public, could have contributed to the debate.

Councillor Thomas said: “I think it’s a missed opportunity.

“Imagine all of the things that people could have contributed.

“Coxford is one of the more deprived areas of the city. I get calls about homelessness every week.

“I think they need to stop talking among themselves and open it up to the public.”

His stance was backed up by fellow Coxford councillor Tammy Thomas who described the closed nature of the meeting as “undemocratic” and questioned why the public were excluded.

Their comments come after more than 70 “stakeholders” met to discuss homelessness in the city during a £25-per-head, two-day conference, held at the Central Baptist Church in Polygon.

The stakeholders came from 30 different organisations, including the police, the council, church groups, charities and businesses.

Both public and press were excluded, while social media posts were banned during the event.

Organisers, the church-collective, Love Southampton, defended the blanket ban.

They insisted it was necessary and insisted it gave speakers the chance to “talk freely about sensitive issues”.

It’s a stance which has been backed by some of those who attended the meeting, including Itchen MP Royston Smith.

He said: “I don’t think people would have been as candid with their experiences and what they feel the solution should be.”

Satvir Kaur, Southampton City Council’s cabinet member for leisure and communities, said she supported the idea of bringing together key decision makers and experts.

She said: “This is not the end of the discussion.

“I believe it’s just the beginning and everyone can be a part of it.”

In November last year, city council staff counted 25 rough sleepers on the city's streets in one night – said to be a rise from 2015.

They also spoke to 43 ‘vulnerable adults’, including beggars and rough sleepers, as part of a survey.

Another 20 refused to take part.

The increase has sparked fears among some city residents, who recently named beggars as the city’s number one problem.

That’s according to a community safety survey, published by the council last year, in which a third of respondents named it as their biggest concern, while rough sleepers were named second.

As a result of the meeting, a ‘homeless charter’ will be drafted containing the city’s stance on preventing homelessness.

There will also be a new website with information on how to help people who are homeless.

The website, which could be launched as early as next month, will also have a donation page to help fund city-wide projects.