Today, the Comet is putting a spotlight on homelessness in Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth and Baldock.

In recent months, we have received a number of calls and emails from residents concerned about the growing issue in our towns.

We have met with those who have survived homelessness, and spoken with the charities and organisations doing remarkable work in North Herts to ensure everyone has a roof over their head.

Stevenage Borough Council leader Sharon Taylor has penned a column outlining some of the council's priorities in its five-year homelessness strategy.

In November, it was found that the number of homeless people in the town rose by 73 per cent last year - with nearly 400 cases seen by Stevenage Borough Council.

It was revealed there was a 33 per cent rise in the number of homeless families, and a 63 per cent increase in the number of rough sleepers on our streets.

But this is not just an issue affecting Stevenage.

The latest figures from the non-profit charity Shelter estimate there are as many as 210 homeless people in Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock and the surrounding areas.

Of those, 200 were in council-arranged temporary accomodation and 10 people were found to be sleeping rough - as of data obtained in autumn 2018.

Since 2014, North Herts District Council has, on average, received homeless applications from around 140 households a year.

NHDC leader Martin Stears-Handscomb said: "Addressing the need for good, truly affordable housing is one of NHDC's top priorities.

"Over 2018/19, we worked with more than 500 households to prevent and/or relieve homelessness and provided general housing advice to many more.

"We have focused efforts on the private rented sector, worked collaboratively with local partners to address specific group's needs and we fund an outreach project which supports people sleeping rough locally and assists them into settled accommodation."

There were 280,000 recorded homeless people in England in 2019 - with the real figure expected to be even higher. It is estimated that one in 200 people are without a home in England.

Shelter has warned the new government that unless "urgent action" is taken over the shortage of social housing, the situation is likely to worsen.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: "As well as those facing serious ill-health or even death sleeping rough on our streets this winter, there are thousands of families trapped in grotty emergency B&Bs, with no space for children to sit and eat, let alone play. This is the grim truth our new government must confront and do something radical to change."

Together, we can all play our part in solving this national crisis.