Giving Norwich’s homeless a home - and hope

PUBLISHED: 08:22 19 March 2018

A homeless person on a street in Norfolk. Picture: IAN BURT

A homeless person on a street in Norfolk. Picture: IAN BURT

Archant 2018

Biddy Collyer recalls how the ‘Beast from the East’ brought the homelessness problem into sharp focus.

It is already quite difficult to remember just how cold it was when the “Beast from the East” struck. I remember walking my dog in Earlham Park in Norwich. No-one else was around as she frolicked in the snow and I was muffled up to the eyeballs, fighting the freezing easterly wind.

A couple of days later, it was still bitterly cold. Walking back from the cinema, I was looking forward to my supper, lighting the fire and switching on the telly.

A couple of hundred yards from my home near the old hospital, I was stopped by a youngish man, wringing his hat in his hand. He explained that he didn’t have a bed for the night. I said that St Peter Mancroft was open, but he said he had been turned away. I thought that this was unlikely as they had opened up under the council’s Severe Weather Emergency Procedure. I said to go back.

As I walked away, guilt came flooding in. I could have taken him to the pub for a meal, and found out a bit about him. He looked harmless. I had a spare room. He could have had it for that night, had a hot shower, slept and then joined us for our Bring and Share lunch at St Stephen’s the next day. I could have done all these things. But I didn’t!

All next day I kept thinking of the words of Jesus when he asks, “Where were you when I was homeless, hungry, sick?” In a way, the fact that extra spaces were available in Norwich gave my conscience a get-out clause that I could hide behind. Someone else had seen the need and met it. No need for me to do anything. But that niggle hasn’t gone away.

Like many other towns and cities across the country, Norwich is experiencing high numbers of people sleeping rough. I pass their crumpled-up sleeping bags as I walk into the city, see them sitting on the damp pavement begging.

So I welcome the new initiative from the local city and county councils and NHS, for the need is desperate.

However, one charity that is already having success is Hope into Action which has eight church-sponsored homes in the city. Such is their success, that two residents were nominated to receive awards at the national conference last Friday. One for maintaining his tenancy and the other for achievement in money management. Why this initiative has worked is because it does more than just find out needs and signpost. As the awards show, these homes give the opportunity for lasting change to take place through the relationships that develop between the tenants and their befrienders. Where I felt unable to respond, they have already done so.

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