City homeless’ winter safety net is being stretched as St Martin’s Housing Trust urgently starts £180k expansion of hostel in Norwich

Expansion of Bishopbridge House, home of St Martin's Housing Homeless Charity. Service user, Peter,

Expansion of Bishopbridge House, home of St Martin's Housing Homeless Charity. Service user, Peter, pictured in his room.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Growing numbers of rough sleepers on the streets has prompted a city charity to urgently build an extension before Christmas arrives.

Expansion of Bishopbridge House, home of St Martin's Housing Homeless Charity. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Expansion of Bishopbridge House, home of St Martin's Housing Homeless Charity. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Three new beds and a 'sit up' service are being constructed at the 30 bed Bishopbridge direct access hostel in Norwich.

Despite a £180,000 fund-raising drive to pay for the project only just underway, work has already begun on the unit in a leap of faith to ensure every preparation is made for the long winter.

Derek Player, general manager at St Martin's Housing Trust, said: 'In Norwich at the moment we have between 15 and 25 rough sleepers. Compared to some other parts of the country that is quite low, but the numbers have risen by 200pc in two years. 'That is through pressures to the private rented sector. People really struggle on low wages to meet the rent, let alone if they are on benefits, and there are insecurities in short term tenancies. This is the housing crisis. 'Our job as a charity is not only to provide emergency accommodation but also to try to prevent as many people from becoming homeless.'

St Martin's expect to help 200 homeless people this year, up from 160 in 2015. 'As a charity we are picking up the pieces from the current housing crisis,' added Mr Player. 'We do not see an end to the rough sleeping crisis and our response is to provide extra beds. Every penny people donate to St Martin's this Christmas will go to this building project. This is the first step and from here the aim is to give people the skills and knowledge to be able to sustain an independent life in the community.'

Expansion of Bishopbridge House, home of St Martin's Housing Homeless Charity. Service user, Lizzie.

Expansion of Bishopbridge House, home of St Martin's Housing Homeless Charity. Service user, Lizzie.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Often drug or alcohol addictions lead people to the doors of Bishopbridge, but Norwich is also attracting homeless from across the county.

Sally Parker, team leader at Bishopbridge, said: 'The reason some people come back is this is their safety net so when things hit rock bottom they can come here.

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'If we identify someone in Norwich as a rough sleeper we haven't seen before, we pull them in. When someone is in crisis they need to know we are going to hit the ground running. Some people can end up on the street because of a row with their partner, and that doesn't need to escalate into something worse. 'When they come to us early that helps us identify their support needs.

'I think some of the reason we are seeing a rise is we have some of the best provision in Norwich. People can eat free here and there is help for people on the street - so sometimes we do get an influx. People will naturally go to the city. Quite often they find the support they need in Norwich.'

Expansion of Bishopbridge House, home of St Martin's Housing Homeless Charity. Service user, Peter,

Expansion of Bishopbridge House, home of St Martin's Housing Homeless Charity. Service user, Peter, pictured in his room with team leader Sally Parker.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

St Martin's Housing Trust hope the new accommodation and sit up service will be complete before Christmas, which will help during Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

If there are three consecutive nights of freezing temperatures, and a fourth approaching, the hostels will open up their lounges and dining rooms to get as many rough sleepers in from the cold as possible.

Giving a lifeline to those in need

Peter and Lizzie are regular residents at Bishopbridge on their path to a stable life.

Fifty-nine-year-old Peter was sleeping rough six years ago after losing his council house for taking in other rough sleepers, and hopes to secure long-term accommodation soon.

'The outreach team found me and they sorted me right out,' he said. 'I am alcohol dependent and they give me a lot of support.

'It means the world to me what they do here. I have children and grandchildren, and without these people I would be in a lot of trouble. 'They look after you, care about you, and when I go to another place I know they will always be here for me. I don't want to have to rely on it, but right now I do rely on it. They are here to get me back on the right tracks.'

Lizzie, 50, has been in and out of the centre since it opened in 2002 as she struggles with drug addiction. Three months ago she was sleeping at Anglia Square when she was attacked, and returned to Bishopbridge.

'I got ill, got discharged from hospital and got brought back here,' she explained. 'They help you to look after yourself and adjusting to the outside world. They are really good at helping people who want to get help. 'Some people just aren't ready, but I started going to a church in Mile Cross doing voluntary work, and that keeps your mind off it. 'Hopefully soon I will be getting into a shared house, or a flat with my partner.'

Carol services will raise funds

Special carol services to help raise money for the new Bishopbridge bedrooms, held by staff and service users at St Martin's Housing Trust, will have an added poignancy.

It was enthusiastically supported by Nicola Ellis, one of the residents at the hostel who sadly lost her life in August.

Nicky Reed, life skills development co-ordinator at St Martin's Housing Trust, said they would be 'allowed a few tears' during the festive songs, which have been specially adapted.

'The choir came about through a BBC project in June of this year for our music day,' she said. 'Nicky was dragged almost screaming to the first one but she loved it so much she got us roped into doing it for Christmas. 'She was so passionate about it we had to keep doing it for her, and we are hoping her family will be able to be there too. 'We are hoping by singing in public people can throw some money in the buckets. We might miss a few notes and we will be allowed a few tears.'

The services will be held on December 10 and 17 from 11am to 12noon at The Forum.

St Martin's will have street collections until Christmas Eve, and donations can be made via their website at www.stmartinshousing.org.uk

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