LAST week 70 delegates from groups across Southampton met to talk about the city’s homeless problem.

Hosted by church-collective Love Southampton, it involved among others MPs, councillors, police and charity representatives.

Today organiser Paul Woodman gives an insight into the meeting and the issues discussed.

"Last weekend, I was delighted to co-lead a city-wide conference looking at the issues of street homelessness and street begging.

"'Beds, Begging and Business’ gave delegates from all political groups on the council, along with over 30 organisations and businesses time to discuss the number of beds available in Southampton and the impact of begging on the city centre experience.

"To make the time as productive and collaborative as possible, we agreed to have some privacy rules.

"Southampton, like other cities, is experiencing an increase in the number of people who are street begging and street homeless, and we discussed creative solutions.

"It is much debated whether everyone who begs is homeless and, conversely, those who are homeless are often not begging but their problem is hidden.

"I think we need some creative solutions for the common good of everyone who lives and works in Southampton.

"One of the keys to this will be sharing perspectives and expertise from different sectors and finding strategies to better work together.

"I believe we need better co-ordination and have seen myself how groups of people are fed by one charity at 5pm and then by another at 6pm; if we could at least reduce duplication that would be a result.

"The conference was organised by Southampton Voluntary Services and Love Southampton, a network of church groups and projects from across the city.

"Essential to the success of this city conversation was the endorsement of Southampton Connect, a group of senior city representatives including the council, police, probation, universities and schools.

"Owing to the experiences of other cities, where similar gatherings of people on this issue had quickly become polarised and unproductive, and to foster a collaborative spirit, some privacy rules were set.

"Delegates agreed to prevent the conversation being reduced to soundbites by avoiding tweeting about or quoting individual speakers.

"Delegates from over 30 organisations and businesses time dedicated 24 hours, from Friday to Saturday lunchtime, to discuss the number of homes available in Southampton and the impact of begging on the city centre experience.

"We learnt that Southampton is experiencing a rise in rough sleepers and delegates heard recent survey results of those who are rough sleeping and begging on the streets.

"This gave an idea of the numbers with drug and alcohol dependency, mental health conditions and how many had local roots.

"Speakers from London, Manchester and Bristol also brought helpful insights from their cities.

"The Friday session finished with a simple shared meal and a speech by Saints Legend, Lawrie McMenemy.

"Lawrie encouraged everyone in the room to work together as a team to make a difference to those who are sleeping rough and see their situations improve.

"The Echo has already reported on some of our ideas – for example the City Homelessness Charter and the proposed website.

"Working groups are already being formed around several actions.

"The organisers would like to thank everyone that participated in the conference and those that volunteered.

"Most importantly, we hope that this leads to collaborative working and creative solutions for the good of all in our city."