HOMELESSNESS is getting worse but hope could lie in the power of love, social media and good food, a meeting heard tonight.

The event, organised by the Winchester Churches Nightshelter, heard the recession continues to drive up numbers of people without a permanent roof over their heads.

But it also heard Peter Cockersell, director of health and recovery at St Mungo's homeless charity in London, say that a lack of love was a major barrier for the homeless. “Everyone needs to be the sparkle in someone else’s eye,” he said.

He said he thought there was a shift in thinking in the search for answers.

Mr Cockersell, also a Winchester resident, said psychotherapy, to deal with the “compound trauma” that most homeless people have experienced, was showing signs of success.

“But people are a bit afraid of using the word ‘love’. There is increasing recognition that people who become chronically homeless are coming from a different background to someone who has had a economic life event. There is more we can do to help people recover," he said.

The internet could also be a way of helping to end the sense of isolation for many homeless people.

Dr Caral Stevenson said research was indicating social networking helped homeless drug users keep in touch with friends and that the internet in general was helping them deal with substance misuse issues.

The meeting also heard that research by Ali McKay, the Nightshelter’s food coordinator, showed the importance of nutritious food in maintaining people’s health.

Food could help engender a sense of community, help with skills building such as cooking and budgeting.

Held to mark Homelessness Week, almost 100 people attended at the Winchester Discovery Centre.

Michele Price, Nightshelter manager, said a new advocacy service was successful, with volunteers accompanying shelter guests on visits to GPs or the Job Centre.

The recent cold weather had seen campbeds erected in the normally 17-bed shelter to allow more people to stay.

Meanwhile the nightshelter now has a twitter account: @winshelter.