‘If someone is sleeping rough, something has gone very wrong’
- Credit: St Martins
As part of the East of England Co-op's #EastTogether campaign, in partnership with Archant, Charles Bliss spoke to St Martins and Norwich Homeless Support about how to prevent rough sleeping in Norfolk.
The universal experience of the pandemic has made one thing abundantly clear: the foundations on which we build our lives are not as stable as we think. Circumstances change, lives suddenly come unstuck – and this is especially true of those experiencing homelessness. Losing your home is like stepping into quicksand – once it overwhelms your life, it can be very difficult to liberate yourself and reclaim your footing on solid ground.
Norwich has a network of organisations offering different solutions to support those affected by homelessness and insecure living. Established in 2013, Norwich Homeless Support is a community interest company providing a night shelter in a converted coach.
“We started out as a soup kitchen providing hot meals to the homeless, but three years ago we came up with the idea of getting a converted coach to house people overnight,” says Eric Hewson, founder of Norwich Homeless Support.
An anonymous benefactor donated £12,000 towards the coach, which has room for 10 people. The CIC is also a community food bank and welfare centre.
“Our outreach team speaks to the homeless to see if we think the bus would be suitable for them,” Eric says. “It’s a safe space that provides a stopgap so that they don’t have to sleep on the streets.”
Norwich Homeless Support can direct homeless people to other organisations providing vital support and also help with applications for private rented accommodation or local hostels.
“In the past few weeks, we have helped people that were sleeping in tents outside the city and didn’t know where to go,” Eric says. “Once they're on the bus, we work with them to help them get identification, register with a GP or full-time accommodation. We want to make sure we're moving them on to the right place so that they don’t end up back on the street.”
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Unlike many other night shelters, the bus allows those who sleep there to stay there throughout the day. “People can either go out during the day or stay here – either to chill or help out. It's their home and they can stay for as long as they want.”
Norwich Homeless Support benefitted from a £1,000 donation from the East of England Co-op that was used to keep its core services running. “The East of England Co-op is also really good at donating food at the end of the day. It's a great support network.”
Eric says the charity always welcomes donations or people who are generous enough to offer their time. “We're always looking for volunteers or donations through our website. We invite people to come along to our open days, which are a good way to meet the team, see what's going on and where the money is spent.”
Another local organisation working to alleviate rough sleeping in Norwich is St Martins. Established in 1972, St Martins is the largest homelessness charity in Norfolk.
“We help those experiencing homelessness and provide support and care to encourage people to live independently,” says Helen Baldry, head of communication and marketing. “Our goal is to help people get back on their feet to live the life they want to lead.
“If someone is sleeping rough, that's the strongest possible indicator that something has gone very wrong in their life. We support people before they hit rock bottom and get them into secure and permanent accommodation as soon as possible. Then we can help with physical and mental health, addiction treatment, paperwork – whatever they need to get back into independent living.”
Working with Norwich City Council, St Martins played an important part in responding to the government's ‘Everybody In’ initiative in March 2020, which saw public funds and interim housing provided to get rough sleepers off the streets during the pandemic.
“Our services continued throughout the pandemic because they had to – for some of the people we support, coronavirus wasn't even the biggest thing that happened to them last year. Unfortunately, our services are needed more than ever, as people are financially insecure and at risk of poor mental ill health.”
St Martins, which is marking its 50th anniversary next year, relies on public donations to continue to provide its vital services. But it is not only through charitable donations that you can make a difference.
“We encourage people to be kind,” Helen adds. “Homeless people are often marginalised and may already feel worthless. Making eye contact, smiling and signposting to St Martins if necessary is always the best thing you can do to help.”
Watch more episodes from the #EastTogether series at www.eastofengland.coop/easttogether