“I used to go down the bins for food” - 84 year old sleeping rough helped by soup kitchens

The People's Picnic serve the homeless twice a week from the Haymarket. Photo: People's Picnic

The People's Picnic serve the homeless twice a week from the Haymarket. Photo: People's Picnic - Credit: Archant

'I feed the pigeons now because I know what it's like to be hungry.'

84-year-old Roy Brown was sleeping rough in Norwich for three years, and would have relied on rifling through bins or the generosity of strangers to sustain him if it wasn't for soup kitchens provided on Hay Hill.

Twice a week volunteers at the People's Picnic cook enough food for up to 20 people each, and hand it out to dozens of people in need from 8pm.

Donations from the public allow hot meals to be handed out, along with toiletries, sleeping bags and blankets.

Each day at least three different soup kitchens are operating in Norwich. However, their effectiveness in tackling the problem in the long-term are a regular topic for discussion, especially in the region this week following an opinion column in the EDP by Steve Downes, which prompted widespread debate online and in social media.

They help people like Mr Brown, who became homeless after a divorce. He has now found accommodation on Ipswich Street but still comes to the Haymarket on a Tuesday night as he struggles to cook for himself.

'I used to go down the bins for food,' he said. 'There are lots of people still sleeping rough and they need a meal. I couldn't beg for money - it isn't in me to beg. I would rather people give it to me than I take it.''

Homelessness can happen to anyone. One volunteer at the People's Picnic found himself on the streets in 2011. It began with a tragedy in the family, after which he began drinking and his relationship broke down.

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'It is a very familiar story,' he said. 'It happens all the time.

'I came off the streets through a charity. I went through a counselling system and ended up with a flat and on the dole. From there I got a job and away I went.

'What you need in Norwich is somewhere like a clearing house. You need counselling, a housing officer and people who can deal with mental health issues.'

Dan, 24, is not eating. He was homeless in Norwich for a month-and-a-half after moving from Surrey.

'Until you have been in that situation nobody knows what being homeless is like,' he said.

'To come to the soup kitchen is a social thing too. The majority who come here want to talk to people and get advice. If this place wasn't here there would be a lot more stealing.'

While organisations providing food on the Haymarket provide hot meals, police do regularly have to attend.

On Tuesday evening at 5.40pm police were called to a group of 15 people fighting in the area. Later that evening a man was arrested there who was wanted by the Metropolitan Police for drug dealing.

Sgt Mark Shepherd said: 'The fact is people are vulnerable while they are sitting on the streets. We have got to regulate it. If we can make the environment there a safe place surely that is best for everyone.'

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