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Fighting Norwich homelessness - why night shelters alone are not enough

PUBLISHED: 10:19 18 December 2014

Nina Parmar, who has been helped by LEAP, a Norwich City Council & St Martins Housing Trust initiative. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Nina Parmar, who has been helped by LEAP, a Norwich City Council & St Martins Housing Trust initiative. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

It is an issue that people might think has a simple solution. But as SAM RUSSELL reports homelessness is about more than not just having a roof over your head

Barry Allard, director at LEAP, Norwich City Council & St Martins Housing Trust.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.Barry Allard, director at LEAP, Norwich City Council & St Martins Housing Trust. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Nina Parmar, 30, is clear about what is needed to solve the problem of homelessness. And she should know. At her lowest ebb she found herself sleeping rough and addicted to heroin.

But, as she points out, there is more to ending this issue than bricks and mortar, the provision of more beds in hostels and the creation of more affordable housing - crucial though those are.

Just as important, she says, is to make sure that those unfortunate enough to find themselves in such a situation are taught the ways to live a fulfilling life - and learn the practical skills that will allow them to keep a roof over their head.

Mark Ebbage who has been helped by LEAP, a Norwich City Council & St Martins Housing Trust initiative. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.Mark Ebbage who has been helped by LEAP, a Norwich City Council & St Martins Housing Trust initiative. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

This means not just the qualifications needed to get a job, but also the basic life skills to keep one and to run a household - from paying the bills, to preparing a meal.

Miss Parmar was speaking to the Evening News as part of our series of articles highlight the problem of homelessness in our region. As we reported yesterday, the number of homeless people in Norfolk has soared recently from 477 in 2012-13 to 574 in 2013-14.

She is one of more than 700 to have received such guidance from the Norwich charity LEAP - the Learning, Employment, Accommodation Project.

Miss Parmar went to the charity three years ago, as she started to turn her life around.

Case studies

Mark Ebbage

When he was living on the streets, he admits his outlook was “bleak” and he struggled to see a future.

Mark Ebbage, of Thorpe St Andrew, wanted to get his life back on track and a few weeks in Norwich’s Bishopbridge House night shelter gave him some stability.

But the 54-year-old said he truly found his feet after being introduced to LEAP, finding work as a decorator, and a sense of independence.

“I came through a relationship breakdown which then led me to be homeless,” he said. “My head wasn’t quite on my shoulders back then.

“I was quite bleak.”

After being introduced to LEAP in 2012, staff asked his interests and helped him find training courses for the construction industry.

“That gave me a little bit of motivation,” said Mr Ebbage.

He is now employed full-time as a painter and decorator, and feels he has come a long way.

“I feel like a million dollars now,” he smiled. “Financially I’m better off, mentally I’m better off and since then I’ve got my own home with help from LEAP.

“It was encouragement step by step, advice they gave me and the opportunity to go on different courses that really helped me.”

Steve Stone

Recovering alcoholic Steve Stone was homeless for almost a decade.

The 43-year-old, who lives in Norwich, said he was trapped in a destructive cycle until he was helped by a night shelter, and then LEAP changed his way of thinking.

He had previously worked in catering, but said it was difficult for him to work in an environment where alcoholic drinks were served due to his past addictions.

But he is three months sober, gaining new qualifications with LEAP and has thrived on the supportive atmosphere.

“I’m dealing with the issues I’ve had before, and what went wrong,” he said. “Even if I get accommodation, LEAP is still there to support me.

“I don’t believe things would have happened without them.

“I’ve got that confidence now.”

He added he he was kept busy, and away from old habits.

“I look to the future, and they remind me of my progress,” said Mr Stone. “I look for voluntary work.”

He is saving for his own home, and sings LEAP’s praises to old friends at the night shelter.

“They see you’ve got this and that and it encourages them to come and try it,” he said. “I look at where other people at LEAP are at the moment and am inspired by it.”

She had been through rehab to beat her addiction and helped by a night shelter, but said she felt lost before she found LEAP, which is run by St Martins Housing Trust.

She now has her own flat, is on a work placement as an administrator and is hoping to work with vulnerable adults to give something back.

“They’ve given me a second chance,” said Miss Parmar. “They’ve given me a purpose, to want to live.

“When you’re given a bank card and are back into real life, I felt like I was drowning.

“These guys hauled me up, now I want to find permanent work.

“It’s just the little things in life – being able to have a car, and all the things I’ve missed out on.

“Simple things like running a house, paying the bills.”

Barry Allard, project director of LEAP, explained that the charity has helped more than 700 people in its six year existence.

LEAP gained funding from the police and crime commissioner for its catering social enterprise called The Feed for three years, and this week was awarded a further £387,710 from the Big Lottery Fund.

Mr Allard said: “Someone becomes homeless for a reason and it’s not the lack of a house.

“To get to the core of that you’ve got to work with an individual over a period of time to encourage and motivate them, and also make them accountable for their actions.”

How to help

People wanting to help the homeless have been urged not to give money to beggars.

The city council issued advice as part of its alternative giving scheme, wanting to dispel myths around begging.

Officers stressed that the majority of beggars in Norwich were not homeless, with most spending their money on cocaine, heroin and alcohol.

By not giving to them, it is hoped people will be forced to address their real needs.

People wishing to donate are urged to give to local charities for the homeless.

There is immediate help for homeless people.

To flag an issue, email roughsleepers@norwich.gov.uk or call 01603 212950.

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