Big Issue founder says Norfolk needs better mental health provision to reduce homelessness

From left, Rebecca White, who runs Your Own Place, and John Bird, founder of the Big Issue. Photo: L

From left, Rebecca White, who runs Your Own Place, and John Bird, founder of the Big Issue. Photo: Luke Powell - Credit: Archant

The founder of the Big Issue says Norfolk needs better mental health provision and more social enterprises to reduce homelessness.

John Bird, who is a peer in the House of Lords, said it was vital support was made available to vulnerable young people in the county.

He claimed Norfolk was 'one of the worst' areas in the UK for providing support for young people suffering mental health issues.

But he stressed that it was due to a lack of funding and that local authorities and the NHS could not be blamed.

Mr Bird made the comments during a visit to Norwich yesterday, where he was invited to talk about the benefits of social enterprise.

He said: 'A major chunk of solving the [homelessness] problem is to get behind social enterprises and charities, and to understand the problems of mental heath in our communities.

'If we can make our young people more stable in the home and can help them through school or with psychological support, we will prevent the next generation of people from being out on the streets.

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'Norfolk is one of the worst areas in the UK for under provision for young people suffering from mental health issues.'

The 71-year-old, who founded the Big Issue magazine in 1991, knows first-hand the hardships faced by many rough sleepers.

He said he was homeless for part his younger life and even spent several days begging on the streets of Norwich in 1961.

Aged just 15 at the time, Mr Bird said he ended up in the city whilst on the run from family and police.

'I got picked up by some plasterers in the East End [of London] and they were doing a job near Norwich, and so I made by way into the city,' he said. I would tell all sorts of stories [to get money as a beggar] and I know how demeaning it can be to be on the streets.'

More than 50 years later and Mr Bird was invited back by the Norwich social enterprise Your Own Place CIC to give his talk.

The organisation provides vulnerable young people with the skills and confidence needed to live on their own.

Mr Bird, who now lives in Cambridgeshire, added: 'We have to get the community involved in solving the problem and the best way in doing that is through social enterprises.'

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