LIFE on the streets is tough beyond belief.

Coping with the cold and hunger is a daily battle.

But for homeless people, trying to get their thoughts and feelings across to professionals who want to help them as well as others living on the street can be an insurmountable challenge.

They are often vulnerable due to addiction or poor mental health.

However, another vulnerability, which has been overlooked is autism.

It is an easy assumption to make that homeless people are unco-operative due to alcohol and drug abuse, however, sometimes it could be because they simply do not know how to communicate or resolve their situation.

Dr Anna Kennedy, a champion for the rights of autistic people and an avid homelessness campaigner, visited Autism Anglia in Colchester to offer her support.

The challenge which she has set herself and the autism charity is to make sure councils are aware of autism as a potential barrier for dealing with homelessness.

She also wants to make sure councils know how to support individuals who live with the condition.

As a regional charity, Autism Anglia has observed the difficulties which individuals with autism can face in finding and keeping a home and gaining appropriate and timely support around their housing needs.

The charity says there is a definite lack of understanding towards autistic individuals and superficial judgements are often made.

In February Annie Sands, Autism Anglia’s senior welfare rights adviser was contacted by Dr Kennedy, after she had been contacted herself by an autistic homeless man in Cornwall.

Dr Kennedy said: “I am happy to support Autism Anglia with their project since I have been working alongside Annie Sands on a recent case where I was impressed with her knowledge, care and support for this vulnerable autistic adult.

“We both strongly believe more work and awareness raising needs to be undertaken in this area.”

There are no figures for how many homeless people in Colchester show autistic traits.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests autistic people experience an elevated risk of homelessness partly due to problems integrating and communicating.

Research was carried out in June by Alasdair Churchard, Morag Ryder and William Mandy from University College London and Andrew Greenhill from Kensington and Chelsea Learning Disability Service.

It found 12 per cent of 106 rough sleepers across the UK “showed strong signs of autistic traits that would be consistent with an autism diagnosis”.

Those with elevated autistic traits, compared to those without, tended to be more socially isolated and less likely to use substances.

Alan Bicknell, who is the chief executive officer of Autism Anglia, said: “Housing is such a basic need for people that anything we can do to improve the situation must help in some way.”

With that aim, Autism Anglia will be extending an invitation to regional authorities and housing associations across East Anglia, as well as elected members and organisers of foodbanks, to discuss where improvements need to be made.

Organisations like Shelter, The Big Issue and Autism Leads will take a campaign to the central government and will ask it to make informed changes to policies and procedures.

In the meantime, local authorities should be providing specific autism training to their staff and the necessary support individuals require when seeking housing advice in order to prevent homelessness.

A spokesperson for Colchester Borough Homes said: “Whilst we do not provide specific training for staff or make an offer of additional support, as a matter of process, for those approaching us for housing advice, we do make contact with Autism Anglia for assistance and guidance if we are contacted by a client who appears to need additional assistance.”

If you know someone affected by this issue in East Anglia and on the autistic spectrum, they can contact Autism Anglia helpline 0300 1233 122 for advice or Shelter have a free helpline for urgent housing advice 0808 800 4444.