IT is difficult to imagine what it would be like to sleep rough during the winter.

It is easy to picture the biting cold. But add to that cold a ravenous hunger. And also perhaps the searing craving of an addiction.

Gather those feelings together and throw them into a pit of desperation, loneliness and abject poverty. These are the realities and they are impossible to imagine unless they are lived out every day.

People who have reached the point of sleeping rough on a consistent basis carry with them a myriad of complex social issues which are extraordinarily difficult to resolve.

But help is at hand in Colchester which has some excellent charities working to combat these problems.

They include Beacon House, with its practical help and medical care, and Emmaus which provides a home and meaningful work for up to 33 people.

But throughout the winter months, things become more perilous for rough sleepers and too often we see a headline announcing another life lost to the freezing cold.

Many areas operate an emergency night shelter during these months, but Colchester does not.

Many areas have churches which will open up space to allow rough sleepers a warm place to shelter.

This year, Colchester has none.

St Peter’s Church, in North Hill, had offered space to rough sleepers until last year, when damage to the roof forced the Rev Mark Wallace to rescind this service.

Mr Wallace said: “We have had quotes on the hall roof in the tens of thousands of pounds.

“I have spoken to a few churches and it is incredibly difficult these days to run a homeless shelter, especially in the town centre with all the health and safety regulations that go with it. It isn’t how it was five or ten years ago.

“The client group you are seeking to care for typically have significantly greater number of problems than in the past.

“We find we will cope with a significant number of mental health cases which we are not equipped to handle.”

Colchester’s regular night shelter has 20 spaces for rough sleepers.

Its boss Marina Woodrow recognises it will typically be full throughout the winter months.

“The sad thing is we turn down between five and ten people every single day,” she said.

Colchester Council has outlined the steps it will take to help.

The authority triggered its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol on November 1.

It will remain in place until the weather grows warmer.

A council spokesman said: “The numbers of people sleeping rough when it is very cold are generally low.

“In such circumstances friends or family may offer support but cannot always offer the kind of long-term support required.

“The protocol is not a venue, it is a process whereby we provide accommodation for those people who are rough sleeping and who accept the accommodation that we offer.

“We continue to support several rough sleepers into new accommodation or help them to return to accommodation that was available to them.

“Our key aim is to support people with longer term solutions.

“We will also work to reconnect rough sleepers to their area of origin, so long as it is safe to do so.”

The council says it has recruited two navigators to work with its two homeless outreach workers to provide person-centred support.

An issue many charities and authorities encounter is that some rough sleepers do not wish to engage with the services on offer.

The spokesman said: “Where this is the case the outreach workers and navigators co-ordinate with other agencies to consider best interventions, to meet the needs of the individual and public safety.

“Inevitably, all available accommodation has some rules to ensure the health and safety of those who live, work and volunteer there.

“Some people will choose not to take up accommodation because of the rules or their own habits, which have led to an entrenched lifestyle engaging in daily begging which they find difficult to break.”

Anyone who has a particular concern for a rough sleeper can contact Street Link via the app or 999 in an emergency.