FIGURES released by homeless charity Shelter showed that homelessness is on the rise across the North-East.

Analysing the number of people officially sleeping rough or using temporary accommodation in its annual report, the charity found that the figures had increased by four per cent since its first review in 2016.

Furthermore, close to 12,500 people in the North-East were threatened with homelessness in the past year, it was claimed.

But surely not in rural Northumberland or the affluent Tyne Valley?

Particularly after the recent comments from Humshaugh’s Northumberland county councillor Rupert Gibson saying that it was "practically impossible to be homeless in the countryside".

It would appear that homelessness is a bigger problem in the district that many realise, according to Andrew Sanders, the chief executive of StopGap Supported Housing which has operated accommodation for homeless people in Hexham since 2001.

The charity provides seven bedrooms at its Dean Street base, but will soon treble the amount of accommodation it provides after agreeing a lease with housing provider Karbon Homes for 13 extra rooms at the former Links building on Haugh Lane.

This, said Mr Sanders, points to the extent of the problem in Hexham and the Tyne Valley as a whole.

He said: “Since we had an accommodation service in 2001, we have supported nearly 1,000 homeless people. But that is only 40 per cent of the people in that period that came for help.

“In the last 12 months, we have had 70 referrals but we have been only able to accommodate a fraction of those people because we don’t have the space.

“We do hear comments saying ‘why do we need this service because there are no homeless people in Hexham’ or ‘the homeless people are bussed in from Newcastle’ but these are misconceptions. Because they are not sleeping in the doorways and rarely seen, people think there isn’t an issue with homelessness in the area.

“Homeless people in Hexham don’t want to be seen and, instead of going to the doorway of Boots to beg, they will hide away at Tyne Green or near the racecourse, or up to Wylam to stay out of the way.

“People will go to friends houses and sofa surf or go for a shower at Wentworth and go unnoticed.

“We know of people who have gone several months as homeless and not being detected until being discharged in hospital.”

To help combat the problem across the Tyne Valley, the new housing block at Haugh Lane will provide essential facilities to homeless people.

Not only will people benefit from beds to sleep in, but the building will allow StopGap to run advice sessions to try to prevent homelessness.

Mr Sanders said: “It’s not just the accommodation but also what other stuff we can provide in the building, working with other agencies to give housing advice, career advice and helping with substance misuse. The best thing to do is prevent homelessness and we will be able to do more of that in the new building.”

Mr Sanders’ claims that the issue is worse in Tynedale than many people believe was backed by a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research in 2017 which highlighted the problem of homelessness in rural areas.

The report, entitled Right to Home? Rethinking Homelessness in Rural Communities, illustrated it was an issue in the countryside, and was increasing.