A CRUSADING Winsford dad is providing a lifeline to the homeless.

Every weekend Tony Riding spends hours talking to men and women living on the streets and offering them food, toiletries and clothing.

The 52-year-old dad-of-three set up a ministry last year, Earnest Homeless Outreach, dedicated to his late uncle Ernest Morgan, from Winsford, who died homeless when he was only 39.

"He was a loveable character," said dad-of-two Tony. "Unfortunately, drink got the better of him as it does with a lot of people. He lost his family and ended up on the streets."

Tony and co-worker Julyan Landon will be mounting a 24-hour sleep out at Winsford Town Park from 7pm on Friday, August 9 to 7pm on Saturday, August 10.

Winsford Guardian:

Tony Riding and Julyan Landon will be sleeping rough in Winsford Town Park for 24 hours to raise awareness of homelessness Picture: John Malam

The pair will be sleeping rough on the viewing platform to raise awareness of the plight of people with nowhere to live.

Residents are invited to come along and donate sleeping bags, duvets, warm clothes and toiletries. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can find out more information about the ministry.

"I'm not the type of person who likes to ask for money," said Tony, a member of Christ Church, Wharton. "Anything that people donate will help us continue this work."

The one thing homeless people long for, he said, is to be acknowledged and not appear to be 'invisible'.

"If you ask a homeless person what they want, 95 per cent of them will say it's not food or money, but someone to sit there and talk with them," said Tony, who spent years supporting the homeless on his own before founding the ministry.

"Don't ignore them. They are no different than me and you. They've just fallen on hard times."

Tony and a team of volunteers, including two women, drive to Chester city centre and park underneath the famous clock on Eastgate Street.

"People come to us, they know we're coming," said Tony, who has two grandchildren."The oldest guy I see sleeping in a door way in Chester is in his late 70s and used to live in Winsford.

Winsford Guardian:

Tony Riding and Julyan Landon are appealing to residents to bring sleeping bags, blankets, duvets, warm winter clothes and toiletries to Winsford Town Park as they sleep out for 24 hours Picture: John Malam

"It is sad in this day and age to see people with nowhere to live. We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Yet we see a lot of homeless members from the armed forces and young people ending up on the streets. They become mentally and physically exhausted.

"Not enough affordable housing is being built. I grew up on a council estate when I was a kid. Now they are just not being built."

Some progress is being made, he said, but not enough resources are being invested to solve the problem.

"There is stuff being done," said Tony. "It's not all negative. We see people who tell us they have got a flat and are getting help but it is a long, slow process."

Tony works as a telephone engineer and devotes all his spare time to helping the homeless.

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"I am a religious person and I believe that God has placed this ministry on my heart," he said. "I don't push the gospel on people, most come to us for prayer. They know we are Christians from our t-shirts."

A verse from Matthew's gospel: 'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in' is referred to on their tops.

"I'm doing what I believe God wants me to do," added Tony. "I get so much out of this work.

"It is rewarding and humbling."