The impact of the recession has led to a sharp rise in the number of homeless people needing help from a medical charity.

St John Ambulance in Sussex says volunteers providing its homeless service in Brighton and Hove have noticed a 25% increase in cases over the last year.

It treated clients a total of 1,592 times in 2009 compared to 1,274 the year before.

Service manager Markie Barratt said: The reasons why people become homeless are many, varied and often highly complex.

“But there's no doubt that the economic climate has contributed to this increase in the numbers of homeless people seeking our help.

“The most vulnerable people are inevitably hardest hit in a recession.

“They have no safety net and that's where we step in. We provide a lifeline to desperate people existing at the margins of society.”

The St John Ambulance service in Brighton runs four clinics a week - one from a mobile treatment centre on the seafront, one from a night shelter and two from treatment centres based outside local day centres.

Research shows two thirds of homeless people living in hostels suffer from serious health problems including frostbite, trench foot, bronchitis and pneumonia.

Long time Big Issue seller, Darren, who is based in Brighton, said: “It is difficult to tell exact numbers because there is a constant cycle of people coming through but the recession is certainly not going to have helped.”

A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said there had been a 58% reduction in homelessness since 2004 and that the number of rough sleepers had fallen by 80% since 2001.

He said: “Homelessness is tragic for those involved.

“So as well as dealing with its consequences, we're very focused on preventing homelessness, working with families and landlords to help people stay in their homes in as many cases as possible.

“Last year our housing options team responded to more than 4,000 enquiries, and managed to resolve 70% of those just through providing the right housing advice.

“We continue to work with our partners to target rough sleeping across the city and work with individuals who need support to access stable accommodation.”