HOMELESS people will be invited to sleep inside some Hampshire churches for the third winter in a row.

St Mary's Church, Southampton, are set to open their doors to the homeless along with a scheme of churches in the city who are joining them in partnership, from January 13 through to February 9.

They will be following in the footsteps of worshippers across Southsea, who have welcomed homeless people to sleep in church buildings during the cooler season.

This has taken place over the last two years as part of an Open Church project.

This winter, they will run this project again, with 12 people sleeping inside St Swithun’s RC Church, Kings Church, Immanuel Baptist Church and Eastney Methodist Church each night from February 3 until March 1.

The project is running in partnership with Caritas church and the Society of St James, a Hampshire-based charity that helps homeless people throughout the year.

Churches in Gosport will also open their doors each night for two months as part of a similar scheme, with their Open Doors project set to build on the existing food run that already offers food to rough sleepers in the centre of Gosport.

Churches Together in Gosport are working with Gosport Borough Council to offer them hot food, a safe place to sleep, and breakfast, from January 6 through to February 29.

Project leader Phil Rutt, from St Paul’s Church, Sarisbury Green, said: “We hope that we can open our doors to those who are the most vulnerable – the core rough sleepers in the centre of Gosport.

“These projects also offer volunteers from the community an opportunity to seriously engage with the rough sleepers. From the shared meal and relationship building, rough sleepers can be encouraged to re-engage with services and make some life changing decisions.”

Kevin Gallagher, director of Caritas in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, who will run the projects in both Portsmouth and Gosport, said: “We don’t see those who sleep rough as an issue or as a problem that needs to be solved, but as individuals, each of whom comes from a different situation and has a story to tell.

“We want to create an environment where people feel a bit more human. Anyone who wants to volunteer will be given appropriate training, so they’ll understand our procedures. The Gosport project will be a pilot scheme, and will help us as we try to work out how to serve them better once this specific project has finished.”

The five churches involved are Christ Church, St Mary’s RC Church in Gosport High Street, Waterside Church, Gosport Family Church and Freedom Church.