A former sleeper, who was homeless aged just 16, believes Northumberland’s homeless problem has hit ‘crisis point’.

Having used drink and drugs from the age of 13, Ashington-born Danielle Dixon found herself sofa surfing after leaving school before she could obtain any qualifications.

Since them, Danielle has turned her life and trained to become a mental health nurse after engaging with the support provided by a North East charity.

She’s also taking part in the annual Alnwick CEO Sleepout Alnwick, which aims to raise thousands of pounds to support causes across Northumberland tackling homelessness across the county.

However, “horrifying” figures obtained exclusively by the CEO Sleepout charity ahead of the event paint a bleak picture locally.

A Freedom of Information Act has revealed that in just two years, homelessness applications to Northumberland County Council have soared by 54 per cent, while requests for temporary accommodation have almost trebled in that same period.

For Danielle, the stats are nothing short of “heartbreaking”.

“I think the homelessness problem in Northumberland is worse than ever,” said Danielle, 36.

“And for the hundreds of people and families in Northumberland who are staring down the barrel each year, it is a frightening place to be.

“I was just 16 years old and had no money for food. I had to shoplift just to survive.

“I’m a mother now, and I know that as a parent you do anything you can to protect your children, so for families who find themselves facing the prospect of being homeless, the stress and anguish that they must face to prevent that happening is horrendous.”

Having had to leave the family home, Danielle eventually turned to a local charity – Barnabas – for support to help get her life back on track.

“If it wasn’t for Barnabas, I’d either be in prison or dead,” admits Danielle.

The charity is one of several that will benefit from money raised at the Alnwick CEO Sleepout Alnwick, which takes place on Lilidorei, in Alnwick Gardens.

Compassionate people from business and Business leaders across the region’s communities are being urged to sign up and spend a night braving the elements by sleeping under the stars.

For CEO Sleepout’s Bianca Robinson, the event isn’t about replicating the harsh conditions rough sleepers are forced to endure every night.

“Taking part in a CEO Sleepout isn’t easy – it can be a long, hard and cold night, and the weather in Northumberland can be quite unforgiving,” said Bianca, who is the charity’s CEO.

“Despite the event’s name, you don’t have to be a “CEO” to take part. However, those business leaders who brave the night outdoors take part leave with some incredible memories and a much greater appreciation of just how hard life on the streets must be for those who don’t have a warm home and bed at the end of it.

“And just one night spent in the cold can help to change the lives of locals like Daneille forever.

“Money raised from the Alnwick CEO Sleepout Alnwick at the enchanting Lilidorei benefits local causes helping local families every day and doing incredible work at a time where there’s more need than ever due to the cost-of-living crisis.

“That’s why I’d urge business leaders to grab a sleeping bag and sign up for what will be an unforgettable night.”