HOMELESSNESS in Bournemouth is at "epidemic" levels, with rough sleepers simply moved to new locations every three months, it has been claimed.

Traders in Westbourne say they are now facing issues with rough sleepers who have been forced out of Bournemouth town centre.

Many homeless people gather to sleep in the Arcade during the evening, with businessowners forced to clear needles from their doorsteps each morning.

Westbourne in Bloom chairman Chris Colledge has now called for gates to be installed at either end of the Arcade.

However, Helen Joyce, owner of florist By Arrangement, said gates may do little to solve the problem.

"We do get a lot of rough sleepers staying outside the shop - at times we've had as many as five sleeping there," she said.

"The problem really is the mess. I often have to bleach away blood and things like that.

"Usually, they tend to be moved on at around 7am, and if that hasn't happened, they're always very polite if I have to ask them to move."

She said the problem is beginning to subside as rough sleepers are moved on by police.

"Every three months, they get moved out of an area, so it's getting a bit better," she said.

"I'm not sure about the idea of gates at either end of the Arcade. There are a lot of restaurants in Westbourne so people often walk through the Arcade and do a bit of window shopping.

"It might affect footfall here if the Arcade is closed at night. I don't think it's the answer."

Hannah Oliver, who works at The Letterbox and lives in Westbourne, said: "The problem with homelessness is very noticeable lately.

"I'd say it's become a lot better recently because police have been dealing with it.

"I don't tend to go out a lot in the evening because when I'm coming home I have to walk past lots of people sleeping rough.

"The other night I saw a couple of homeless people taking drugs near my home."

Justin Brandon, the director of Scape Interiors West, said homeless people have been living in Westbourne after being forced to leave Bournemouth.

"Being homeless is dehumanising," he said.

"As a trader, I've got no objection to homeless people sleeping in the Arcade, but the problem comes when they don't tidy up after themselves.

"Some are alcoholics or drug addicts, which is understandable because it's a terrible situation to be in, but that makes it hard too.

"It's reaching epidemic proportions here.

"We're not taking care of the people who need the most help. We're just forcing them from place to place and failing to deal with the issues behind it."

Mr Colledge said Westbourne's 'village' identity is "under threat".

"There's been problems in Westbourne for a long time in regards to begging but the problems are now out of control and people fear to walk the streets at night," he said.

"The Arcade is one of the worst places where people get accosted by people begging.

"It's now got to the stage where people are afraid to walk through it in the early hours of the morning."

Caroline Roundhill, Bournemouth council's housing strategy and policy manager, said: “We continually work to address street-based activity in Bournemouth with a range of agencies, including Dorset Police, the rough sleeper team and enforcement teams, as well as residents and businesses. "Following our homelessness strategy, we always seek a proactive balance between the use of enforcement measures and the offer of support to vulnerable individuals.”