Video: Special feature: Rise in homeless is happening on our doorstep

PUBLISHED: 11:14 03 December 2013 | UPDATED: 16:47 03 December 2013

Derek Player, from St Martins Housing Trust in Norwich says 2013 has been a tough year for homlessness in Norfolk.

Derek Player, from St Martins Housing Trust in Norwich says 2013 has been a tough year for homlessness in Norfolk.

Organisations working to tackle homelessness in Norfolk say 2013 has been the toughest year they have seen for a long time.

Louis Doughty who has been inspired to start a fund raising campaign after meeting homeless man Mike Cert(right) who he has put up in a hotel to help him get back on his feet.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYLouis Doughty who has been inspired to start a fund raising campaign after meeting homeless man Mike Cert(right) who he has put up in a hotel to help him get back on his feet. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

ADAM LAZZARI reports...

As December is now under way, many peoples thoughts will turn to spending time with their families at Christmas.

Norfolks homeless population will, however, be thinking of how to survive the harsh winters sub-zero temperatures.

Derek Player, general manager of Norfolk homeless charity St Martins Housing Trust, says the national rise in homelessness is being felt locally.

Aaron Wick has been living in Wells on the homeless on the Butlands for the last few months. Picture; Matthew Usher.Aaron Wick has been living in Wells on the homeless on the Butlands for the last few months. Picture; Matthew Usher.

Mr Player said: Its been the toughest year weve seen for quite some time, for a lot of reasons.

He said one factor is the removal of the spare room subsidy from housing benefit, known as the bedroom tax.

Since April, families deemed to have too much living space by their local authorities receive a reduced payment.

The change is intended to encourage people to down-size to smaller properties, help cut the 23bn annual bill for housing benefit, free up living space for overcrowded families, and encourage people to get jobs.

New figures show that nearly 34,000 families in the East of England are losing out on an average of up to 1,000 a year since the tax was introduced.

Mr Player said: Many people have struggled to adapt to new welfare regulations and the bedroom tax has certainly had an impact on homelessness.

Also there is simply not enough one-bedroom accommodation available at affordable rents.

There has not just been a rise in single people becoming homeless, but families as well.

He added: The biggest cause of homelessness is the breakup of a relationship and other causes are drug and alcohol addictions and people leaving the armed forces and struggling to adapt to civilian life.

Government statistics for autumn 2012 state there were 2,309 rough sleepers on any one night in England a rise of 31% (541) from autumn 2010, when the figure was 1,768. The figure for 2013 is to be released next year.

Mr Player said in Norwich, where the St Martins Housing Trust is based, 98 people have been registered as sleeping rough at some point in 2013, although the actual number could be up to 150.

He said the number of people sleeping rough in Norwich on a single night would be in single figures and Norwich City Council recently stated that there are currently six verified rough sleepers in the city.

The council said all six have been offered assistance of some type.

But homeless statistics are difficult to record partly because, to protect themselves, many rough sleepers hide in places where they cannot be easily found.

Mr Player said: Homelessness is not just about people sleeping on the streets, there are also people in hostels, those who are sofa-surfing and people staying B&Bs.

Both Mr Player and Norwich City Council back Norfolk polices recent message in the media to discouraged people from giving money to street beggars, highlighting how, in most cases, this money is not spent on food or shelter but to satisfy a need for alcohol and drugs.

Norwich City Council is launching an alternative giving campaign entitled make your change count, asking the public to give food or make donations to local charities, providing homelessness support, rather than giving directly to street beggars.

Councillor Bert Bremner, the city councils cabinet member for housing, said: Giving money to street beggars keeps people on the street, further damaging their health, and discourages them from engaging with support services.

I urge local residents to support our make your change count campaign and redirect their generosity to the local charities that can really help turn peoples lives around.

People who fear they may become homeless can contact Norwich City Council directly and be referred to the councils outreach service CAPS (Contact, Assessment and Prevention Service).

Misson Michael - Lets Save a Man

A 30-year-old man from Briston, near Fakenham has begun a determined campaign to help turn around the life of a homeless man in Norwich.

Michael Cert had been sleeping rough for around two years when Louis Doughty met him for the first time at Norwichs Castle Meadow bus stop about four weeks ago.

Mr Doughtys campaign is called Mission Michael Lets Save a Man, and is being promoted on Facebook.

He raised enough to put Mr Cert in cheap hotel accommodation for a couple of weeks and has now helped to secure him a place in a hostel in Norwich.

Mr Doughty met Mr Cert, 25, when he was on one of his regular rounds of delivering food to the homeless.

He said: Despite having hardly eaten for two days, he wouldnt take the food I offered.

He hung his head and I could tell he was so ashamed of the situation he was in.

I eventually bought him a pizza, persuaded him to eat, and asked him how he had ended up living on the streets.

Mr Doughty learned how Mr Cert had worked as a plasterer for eight years and was at one point bringing home 980 per week.

But he was always heavily into drugs and alcohol and, following the death of his father due to a heart condition, Mr Cert started taking heroine and his life spiralled out of control. He also said he has suffered mental health problems and is trying hard to kick his addictions.

Mr Doughty said: I had drug and alcohol problems myself in the past. My life could have turned out this way but I was fortunate that I had people around me to help to get me out of the mess that I was in.

I knew straight after meeting Michael that I had to do all that I can to help him and I can see that he is so ready to be helped.

In the long-term I plan to help him get counselling and drug rehabilitation and to eventually see him get a job and a room in a house.

Mr Cert said he was contemplating suicide before he met Mr Doughty.

He said: I was at my lowest point but meeting Louis has helped to change my entire mindset.

For more on the campaign and to donate, go to www.gofundme.com/4z6v3w

I am not trying to be a nuisance to anyone

Aaron Wick has been sleeping rough in Wells since August 15.

The 31-year-old, who grew up in the town, was living in Walsingham and became homeless after breaking up with his girlfriend.

He has since been living in a tent on The Buttlands, in Wells, until it was vandalised recently, and has also been sleeping in bus shelters, in a church doorway and on the floor of his friend Paul Sandfords gym, where he also uses shower facilities.

This week he has been staying in a friends home in Wells while they are on holiday. Mr Wick has four jobs, working for two building companies, a pub and a gym.

He admits he has not always been good with money and had no savings when he became homeless.

He does not want to leave the Wells area as he has four children living there with a former partner, and is often called upon to look after them at short notice.

Mr Wick said he has never been homeless previously, has never been out of work for a long period of time and he is not claiming any benefits.

He is saving up for enough money to rent a room in a house and has been in contact with North Norfolk District Council about getting council housing.

Mr Wick said: I am not trying to be a nuisance to anyone, I am acting out of necessity.

Because I am in reasonable health and have nobody depending on me, I do not appear to be a priority need.

Councillor Trevor Ivory, portfolio holder for strategic housing at NNDC, said: While the council cannot comment on an individual case, any person with a housing question is welcome to contact our Housing Team for advice and assistance.

If we have a duty to assist under housing legislation then we will always make an appropriate offer for them to consider.

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