Charity fears rough sleeper rise as they fight to get people off streets
- Credit: Archant
Emergency beds at St Martins Housing Trust to help bring rough sleepers out of sub-zero conditions were full last week as the charity warns a 'perfect storm' will lead numbers on the street to rise.
Seven new beds and a new sit in service were constructed at their Bishopbridge House service last year after a public appeal for funds.
For 10 days from February 22 the severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) was in place in Norwich.
St Martins chief executive Dr Jan Sheldon said without the extra seven beds at Bishopbridge House they would have struggled.
But she said charities and volunteers helping the homeless had to focus on prevention rather than cure.
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'Nobody ends up on the street just like that,' she said. 'It is a long process of challenges and failures.
'There will be several danger flags that go up for professionals.
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'If we can work with them and wrap services around them, we can stop them becoming that person on the streets.'
While she described provision of food and shelter as 'critical' for rough sleepers, Dr Sheldon warned against a 'quick fix'.
'If people are giving them coffee and sandwiches and money, they won't come forward and we can't do our jobs as quickly or effectively,' she said.
'We want to steer away from that and start helping people to move on with the rest of their lives.
'For some people that can be a really long journey, sometimes two to three years.'
The longer rough sleepers remain on the streets the more vulnerable they become, Dr Sheldon added.
'There is definitely an inherent risk of exploitation,' she said.
But with a benefit change called Universal Credit due to be rolled out in Norwich this year, charities fear the number of rough sleepers could rise.
'It is like a perfect storm,' said Dr Sheldon. 'We have a 20pc reduction in social housing since 2011, benefits reform and a lack of affordable rents. We also have human factors - one of the biggest reasons people become homeless is the break down of a relationship.
'Unless we can find more beds, I am expecting the numbers to go up again.
'People already living on a knife edge could easily fall off.'