Ross Kemp felt ‘vulnerable and ignored’ after sleeping rough for new documentary

Ross Kemp has spent years getting the inside story on the big worries that dominate headlines, from gang violence to the horror of war zones.

But his new ITV documentary aims to raise awareness of the near-invisible blight that shames our country – homelessness.

The former EastEnders star, 54, believes the frequently ­overlooked issue has slipped off the radar completely since the distractions of Brexit were kicked off by the 2016 referendum.

Now he is now calling for our “out of touch” Government to get a grip on the crisis – rather than “keeping a lid on it”.

Ross said: “Over the past three years it seems everything has been sucked up by Brexit. While we’ve been debating our future, it’s been happening. There’s at least 320,000 people who are homeless in Britain. That’s a year on year increase of 13,000, four per cent.

“Most of our cities have a rough sleeping problem. Are the Government actually solving it? I think they’re keeping a lid on it.”

Since leaving BBC hit EastEnders, in which he was hardman Grant Mitchell, Ross has won acclaim with a string of gritty and powerful documentaries.

His new four-parter, Living With…, looks into knife crime and young carers as well as homelessness. While covering rough sleeping, Ross braved sub-zero temperatures when he put himself in their shoes.

And the dad-of-four told how he hugged his family tighter the next day when he returned home and counted his blessings.

Meeting people who were on the streets for many different reasons, Ross points out it could happen to anybody.

He said: “We’re all three ­mishaps away from ending up on the streets. People are there for various reasons. Yes, some are on drugs but others aren’t. They’re relying on charity, not the state.”

Spending time in Cardiff, he slept on the street with two men, Jammo and Connor, for a night. He said: “It was the coldest night in seven years. It was a white-out but it didn’t stop the rats getting up in the morning.

“Connor was ­wearing two sweatshirts. I was wearing a salopette, a pair of jeans and thermals and I was still cold. I felt vulnerable. I felt ignored.”

He also met Nathan, who found himself on the street while ­struggling with addiction.

Ross said: “Nathan’s dad drives into Cardiff from Bridgend every day and gives him £50 to survive. He buys drugs with it. It’s heartbreaking.

“He does it ­because he loves his son. His son won’t stay in rehab. He cooked up his heroin and crack and injected it into a vein in his groin at 4.30 on a Friday ­afternoon, while people were on their way home from work.

“I would have been one of those people walking straight past him, not noticing. There’s a parallel universe going on.”

Ross accuses those in power if being out of touch. In the show, homelessness minister Heather Wheeler is shown using “racist” language for rough sleepers before she joined the Government.

In an email sent to a homeless charity in October 2017, three months before her appointment to the role, the Tory described the homeless in her South Derbyshire constituency as “the traditional type, old tinkers, knife-cutters wandering through”.

Michelle Gavin of The Friends, Families and Travellers charity said ­“tinker” was “a racist term used to put down Irish travellers”.

Ms Wheeler apologised and said it was an “error in ­judgment”.

But Ross said: “The Government don’t come out very well in this.”

He probed ­discrepancies in ­official rough ­sleeping figures used to determine ­funding to tackle the issue and which the UK s­tatistics regulator warns should not be trusted.

He added: “We’re being duped. The way they’re taking figures is not a true representation. If you don’t have them, how can you begin to deal with it?

“You can’t solve this until we have the true number of ­homeless and sleeping rough. We are ­merely managing ­homelessness, not trying to end it.

“We’re in the midst of a housing crisis with a deficit of 4.7 million homes. All these promises that were made, particularly by the present Government, have not come to fruition. They’re letting us down on this, knife crime and young carers.”

Currently filming ­another ITV show in Belmarsh Prison, Ross –who has twin daughters and a son with wife Renee, and a son with ex Nicole Coleman – says the state of the UK makes him fear for his family’s future.

He said: “I am worried about my kids’ future and the world they’re growing up in. That’s why I make these films.

“I went home and hugged my kids tighter. I feel like I live in a parallel universe.”

Next on the list is a programme on Alzheimer’s for his good pal and former on-screen mum Barbara Windsor, 81.

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