IT has served about a quarter of a million tins of soup and loaves of bread to the homeless of Southampton.

But after 37 years a daily soup kitchen will offer its warm food, conversation and company for the last time tonight.

The scores of volunteers have been putting in their final shifts at the soup run at St Mary’s Church. The Society of St James is withdrawing the service due to a fall in demand from rough sleepers.

Operations director Guy Malcolm said it was a tough decision but a sign of the city’s success in tackling homelessness.

“There is sadness on a personal level but a recognition that it’s good news that Southampton doesn’t need the soup run as much as it used to.

“It means we are succeeding in meeting the needs of the homeless in the city.”

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He said a survey revealed on average a dozen people were turning up each day, although only one or two were rough sleepers. It had 40 visitors at its peak.

Typically there are around half a dozen people sleeping rough on the streets of Southampton on any given night and up to 60 at risk of doing so, according to latest figures.

A decade ago there were more than 20 rough sleepers.

However there are now far more homeless people who are moving into hostels and other temporary accommodation where they can be given additional support to help them back into society. The city has more than 400 beds for them.

“Things have definitely improved since the soup kitchen started, when hostels were quite restrictive in who they would take,” Mr Malcolm said.

He said they could now more readily accommodate people with drug, alcohol or behavioural problems.

He added: “The Government’s line is soup kitchens can make homelessness worse because it makes it easy for people to stay on the street There is an element of truth in that.”

The Society of St James is also closing a 20-bed homeless hostel in Albert Road South after the city council switched funding to the newly refurbished Mountbatten Centre nearby.

It awarded the Salvation Army a five-year deal to provide shelter, life skills and job opportunities for up to 46 homeless people at the renamed Booth Centre in Oxford Street.

The Society of St James has 145 other beds across the city for the homeless alongside its services for the vulnerable and needy. There are also ten other services that offer free food in the city.