A SANCTUARY for the city's most vulnerable rough sleepers has launched a £1.5m appeal to secure a new home.

Fronted by Sister Frances Dominica, The Porch has unveiled a mission to replace its current building in Magdalen Road, East Oxford, with a more spacious base nearby.

Appealing to supporters, the charity warned 'extreme poverty is rife' and upgraded facilities are 'desperately-needed' in the midst of the homelessness epidemic.

For decades the day centre, which grew from the porch of a convent, has supported people living on the streets and in inadequate accommodation.

The charity was founded by the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in 1986, and moved to its current home in 2001 after outgrowing the sisters' storeroom.

Sister Frances, a trustee of The Porch and sister of the convent, launched the appeal stating: "I have never known what it is like to sleep rough or go hungry, to rely on drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, or to live with mental illness. Members of The Porch have experienced some or all of these things.

"Our aim is to help them put their feet on the first rung of the ladder out of the mire of poverty and despair."

The charity helps 200 vulnerable people every year, providing support including counselling, therapies and skills training.

Sister Frances said: "The Porch has become so well-used, especially in bad weather, and we really need something more appropriate. It's grown enormously.

"The homelessness problem is getting worse, and [the council] closing down shelters hasn't helped.

"Many people have served prison sentences, come out and had nowhere to go and nobody to stand up for them. Some come out of the Army and their relationships break down."

She said the homeless crisis posed 'endless challenges' but a more suitable base could bring a better service.

Director of the Porch Jon Fitzpatrick said: "Nothing major has happened to the building since 2001. Everything is just at the end of its life. It's second-rate by anyone's standards.

"This is about creating more space and something that's not just patched up and repaired. We don't want our members to think that's what they deserve or they don't matter."

His team of staff and volunteers need £1m to buy the new property and £500,000 to renovate it, but cannot say at this stage where exactly it is located.

It offers members two hot meals a day and use of showers, computers, toilets, a library, laundry facilities and storage lockers.

Mr Fitzpatrick said part of the centre's roof needs 'substantial repairs' costing up to £60,000.

He said: "It triggered a whole conversation about the building. The layout already presents some safety issues.

"There's also issue with the increased number of rough sleepers and homeless people. We can have 74 people in the building at any one time, which can be really cramped. It's very common for it to be full."

He said cuts including to mental health services fuelled the situation, adding: "There is a significant number of people on the streets who don't have capacity to make good decisions - people who don't have the ability to survive.

"In the last 12 months we have certainly seen more human exploitation of the most vulnerable people, who are being preyed upon by some of the more predatory.

"At The Porch we are rule-heavy and that's something members themselves want. The rules exclude the most chaotic and predatory. The portion we see are the most vulnerable of that group, too scared to go to shelters. We are a sanctuary for those people."

He said it was rewarding to see people progress and prevent them from 'deteriorating past the point of no return', adding: "It really has made a massive difference to people's lives."

To donate to the campaign or learn more about fundraising for the project, visit theporch.org.uk/the-porch-appeal.asp.