Stevenage Haven has organised a Hertfordshire Homeless World Cup to help those living with mental health issues in the homeless community.

The event, run by the homeless shelter under its Ripple Effect Mentoring Project in partnership with Hitchin Town FC, aims to generate awareness of mental health issues developed as a result of homelessness.

Marc Campbell, the Canaries’ sports mentor, said: “Mental health stigma is of course very real, affecting the lives of many people with these problems as well as those close to them. The Hertfordshire Homeless World Cup is effective because health and social well-being is being viewed holistically, and the debate around awareness shouldn’t mask the very serious problems mental health services face.

“It is all very well to tell people that it is OK to have a mental health problem and that they should seek the necessary treatment, but if the healthcare system isn’t functioning as it should, awareness campaigns ring hollow.”

According to government statistics, last November the number of people recorded as homeless in the east of England was more than 20,000 – with Stevenage having the third most in the region.

Beatrice Thirkettle, Hitchin Town’s diversity officer, said: “Football offers so many benefits socially, physically and mentally, and we’ll see this at the Hertfordshire Homeless World Cup.”

Students from Highfield School in Letchworth have helped out by donating various bits of kit to the event, including more than 20 pairs of football boots. They’ll also be getting involved as pitch assistants, while college students will be refereeing and coaching.

Tom Rance, a teacher at Highfield, said: “Through my voluntary role as coach of Hitchin Belles FC, I was informed of the Hertfordshire Homeless World Cup initiative and wanted to be involved.

“Hopefully the donations we have gathered will go some way to supporting the cause and giving individuals the chance to experience the game properly.”

The event takes place on Saturday, May 12, at the Herts FA’s County Ground in Letchworth. Eight teams will take part.

Entry tickets cost £2 for adults and £1 for kids, with money raised from food and drink being donated to homeless youth charity Railway Children.