How you can help the homeless in Norwich

Pathways team from St Martins homelessness charity on street outreach in Norwich city centre

The Pathways team on street outreach in Norwich city centre - Credit: St Martins

Christmas is traditionally a time of generosity and goodwill when many of us feel compelled to offer a helping hand to those less fortunate than ourselves.  

As such, not-for-profit organisations such as St Martins Housing Trust – Norfolk’s longest established homelessness charity – see an upsurge in public support during this time of year.

“It’s a time when people start thinking about their own homes and what they mean to them,” says Helen Baldry, St Martins’ head of marketing. “The generosity we receive during the festive period is hugely helpful, especially because winter can be a dangerous time for rough sleepers, but this tends to tail off in January and we need support year-round.  

“Some of our services are funded by the local authority, central government and grant funding, but the more funding we can raise, the more people we can support, including those who have no recourse to public funds."

What does St Martins do to help homeless people? 

One of the largest charities in Norwich, St Martins provide a range of services tailored to people’s individual circumstances. The charity’s Pathways team – a collaborative project commissioned by Norwich City Council – offers personalised support to homeless people, from weekly outreach sessions to providing information on hostel availability in the region.

“We also go out to do street counts and respond to reports from the public, with the aim of bringing aid to people sleeping rough and offering advice rather than telling them what to do or where to go,” explains Helen. 

St Martins runs a variety of emergency and residential accommodation in Norwich, including the direct access hostel, Bishopbridge House, a move-on hostel, and two residential homes, one for people over the age of 50 and another for people with a dual diagnosis and complex needs.

The charity can also arrange shared housing in the community for people who are more independent and require less support. 

The reception area at Bishopbridge House in Norwich, owned by St Martins homelessness chairty

The reception area at Bishopbridge House in Norwich - Credit: St Martins

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Another important service the charity offers is Under 1 Roof, a learning and development centre on Westwick Street. “The centre provides assistance to homeless people or those at risk of homelessness to help them develop the skills and confidence to move forward and live independently,” says Helen.

“People can come and learn life skills, such as IT and tenancy training, or take part in positive activities like yoga and singing to boost wellbeing.” 

What types of homelessness are there? 

The most visible type of homelessness is rough sleeping, but according to Helen, this is just the tip of the iceberg. “There are sofa surfers, people living in hostels and temporary accommodation, as well as people living in outbuildings or unsuitable housing – they may have some sort of roof over their head, but they are still technically homeless,” she says.  

“If you are concerned about someone who is sleeping rough in a shed, car or doorway, you can report it to StreetLink or Pathways – we collect the information and will go and offer support to that person."

Pathways team members investigating a person sleeping in a tent during an early morning street count in Norwich city centre

Pathways team members investigating a person sleeping in a tent during an early morning street count in Norwich city centre - Credit: St Martins

Helen tells us that the most common reason for homelessness is relationship breakdown, but there are often many factors at play. “Loss of job, eviction, ill health, poor mental health, addictions, previous trauma or a lack of a support network can all lead to someone becoming homeless, and a number of these can co-exist and accumulate.” 

How you can help the homeless in Norwich 

Often the most effective way to support homeless people is through a charity like St Martins. “If people want to make a financial donation, we always encourage them to give to a charity like ours rather than directly to a person on the street, which we can then use to provide accommodation or whatever form of support required,” says Helen.

You can donate to St Martins through their website, either as a one-off payment or a regular donation. 

Another way to help is by volunteering or supporting the charity in a fundraising capacity. “There are different types of volunteering you can do,” says Helen. “We have a street collection every year that runs throughout December and a charity shop on Anglia Square, where people can volunteer their time or donate items such as new toiletries, socks, underwear and good quality second-hand clothing. Any excess we use to raise funds for the charity.” 

St Martins team members, volunteers and clients enjoying a boat trip on the Norfolk broads

St Martins team members, volunteers and clients enjoying a boat trip on the Norfolk broads - Credit: St Martins

There are also volunteering roles available at St Martins’ learning and development centre. “You can get involved in wellbeing walks, one-to-one support, or if you have a particular talent or skill, you can come in and teach a fitness class or craft project,” says Helen.  

St Martins placed number 18 in the best charities to work for in the Sunday Times list for 2021. The organisation prides itself on being an employer of choice and offers a wide range of roles, from support workers and domestic workers to outreach workers and the maintenance team. You can find out more about current vacancies on their website

“But the most important way to offer support,” Helen says, “is to not judge people who are homeless. Many people make assumptions about why someone is sleeping rough and think they have chosen it, which is simply not the case. It might be poor choices or unfortunate circumstances, but what we can all do is approach people with compassion.” 

To find out more about the work St Martins does, to enquire about volunteering or to make a donation, visit stmartinshousing.org.uk

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