The number of homeless people sleeping rough in Bedford has doubled over the past year.
An official head count revealed 51 people are spending their nights braving the cold in shop doorways and car parks around town.
A year ago the same government Rough Sleep Evaluation report showed just 25 people.
Yet, despite the sudden surge, Bedford Borough Council still insists there is “no need” for anybody to sleep on rough because there is sufficient help on offer.
Others say it is clear that many people – such as the couple sleeping in the doorway of the former Laura Ashley store – are slipping through the net.
The report identifies 19 of the current rough sleepers as coming from Eastern Europe.
Beds police and crime commissioner candidate Kathryn Holloway said: “There has to be concerted and immediate action to tackle this problem on behalf of those who are sleeping rough, who are at real risk, and the public who find it deeply intimidating to be approached by people begging at the town centre .”
She added: “Businesses have been working hard to make the town centre an attractive place. This problem threatens to undo all work.”
Meanwhile charities such as Bedford’s YMCA and Noah Enterprise have urged the public NOT to give cash to people sleeping rough because some could be tempted to spend it on alcohol or drugs.
YMCA spokesman Paul Kellett said: “We would like to see an alternative giving scheme such as vouchers that could be exchanged for food or hot drinks.”
Next month the charity plans to re-open its Fountain cafe, which has been closed for repairs after squatters caused damage. It offers a “suspended” meal scheme to enable customers to pay for extra portions so a homeless person can eat later.
Mayor Dave Hodgson said the council planned to build a new complex needs unit for people unable to be housed in existing accommodation.
Meanwhile constant efforts were being made to persuade rough sleepers to access support currently available, he said.
“In this ongoing effort to end rough sleeping locally, we are fuelled by the shared view in our community that the existence of rough sleeping in Bedford is morally unacceptable, and will not rest while it continues.”
A Bedford council spokesman told the T&C:“Although some individuals choose to do so, no-one need sleep rough in Bedford Borough as there are a wide range of services that can assist people with their housing needs.”