Winter is looming and the number of rough sleepers in Norwich is rising

Rough sleepers in the doorway of Debenhams at Red Lion Street, Norwich, on Tuesday October 18 2016.

Rough sleepers in the doorway of Debenhams at Red Lion Street, Norwich, on Tuesday October 18 2016. Photo: Archant - Credit: Archant

It's just before 8am on Tuesday in Norwich city centre and four shapes wrapped in blankets are lying in the doorway of Debenhams.

David Smith and Claire Dyson have been helped by St Martins Housing Trust and now visit schools to t

David Smith and Claire Dyson have been helped by St Martins Housing Trust and now visit schools to talk about the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Those waiting for buses on Red Lion Street and walking past on the way to work don't look up at them – but it is an increasingly common scene across English cities.

The number of rough sleepers is on the rise and Norwich is no different.

At city homeless charity St Martins Housing Trust, which has enough accommodation for 30 people a night, they are seeing more people than since the mid-1990s.

They expect to help 200 homeless people this year, up from 160 in 2015.

Rough sleepers in the doorway of Debenhams at Red Lion Street, Norwich, on Tuesday October 18 2016.

Rough sleepers in the doorway of Debenhams at Red Lion Street, Norwich, on Tuesday October 18 2016. Photo: Archant - Credit: Archant


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General manager Derek Player said there were a whole range of reasons for the rise, including soaring rents for both social housing and private housing, the 'bedroom tax' which meant demand for single bedroom accommodation had risen and service cuts.

Adult social services has had the biggest budget cuts of any Norfolk County Council department. Mental health service cuts have also impacted on the numbers sleeping rough, said Mr Player.

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'It is harder to get them access to the mental health trust,' he said.

The charity's temporary accommodation is full every night and it is building another three rooms to cope with demand.

Derek Player, General Manager of St Martins Housing Trust.

Derek Player, General Manager of St Martins Housing Trust. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

'It will mean an extra 1,095 nights for people who would otherwise have been on the streets,' said Mr Player.

But that demand on homeless charities isn't reflected in official rough sleeper figures.

The city council said at their last count in 2015 there were 13 rough sleepers in Norwich and this number hasn't increased since 2014, although it was up from just five in 2013.

The council figure is compiled by counting how many people are sleeping rough on just one night a year.

Meanwhile, the number of people coming to St Martins Housing and the Big Issue office in Norwich, suggests homelessness is rising.

Jim Graver, distribution manager for the Big Issue in East Anglia, said he has also noticed a rise in the number of homeless people in the city in the last six months.

He said all the spots where vendors sell the magazine in Norwich were full most days.

And he blamed government cuts from previous years for the jump.

'The cuts are really coming to fruition now,' he says. 'There's been a big increase.'

At a soup kitchen on Haymarket on a Wednesday night, there are more than 30 people queuing for food.

How many of these are homeless or rough sleeping is unclear – a group of teenagers come out of McDonald's and join the queue for soup at one point.

But two groups who run soup kitchens in the city have expanded in the last few years, suggesting there is a growing demand for them.

The Norwich Soup Movement and the People's Picnic have set up soup kitchens and the Salvation Army runs one every night of the year.

A debate has been had in London about the extent to which soup kitchens help homeless people get off the streets, after Westminster Council looked to ban rough sleepers and soup kitchens.

Some believe that soup kitchens keep people on the street, rather than encouraging them to go to a hostel.

It is also unclear how many using soup kitchens are rough sleepers.

But getting off the street isn't easy either.

'Hopefully I'll have somewhere by the winter'

One 30-year-old man, who does not wish to be named, has been sleeping on St Stephens Street for the past six months.

He said he found sleeping rough scary at first but has now got used to it.

A large group of homeless people sleep around St Stephens Street in the underpass, the doorway of the former BHS store and outside Debenhams.

The man said he had been to the city council for accommodation but couldn't get somewhere with his dog, which he has had for nine years and doesn't want to lose.

He has been homeless since his mother, who he was living with in the Larkman, moved into a care home.

He has never had a job and was a full-time carer for his mum, who has osteoarthritis.

He said he had been to St Martins Housing to find a room but they were full.

He hopes to get somewhere by the winter, but if not he is philosophical about his first winter on the streets.

'Hopefully I'll have somewhere by the winter,' he said, 'If not I'll do the best I can. Hopefully I'll get a place of my own and go forward from there.'

People sleeping rough in Norwich can get emergency accommodation.

There is a waiting list at St Martins Housing Trust for people seeking accommodation which is based on how vulnerable the person is.

Once given a room, the charity hopes to find them a place to move onto within six to 12 weeks of arriving.

'We would love to be able to work ourselves out of a job,' said Mr Player. 'But there are always new people coming along.'

He said they were seeing more people aged under 24 who have come out of the care system and have nowhere to go.

The most vulnerable don't make it through after they've left the charity and come back again when they can't keep up with rent, but there are plenty of success stories too.

How two lives were rebuilt

Claire Dyson, 35, said her problems began when she was kicked out of her home aged just 15.

She said: 'In total I've probably been homeless for about five years.

'If I wasn't homeless I was in a hostel or in prison.

'I got kicked out of home when I was 15 so I didn't really have a chance to do my GSCEs.

'That just set me on the wrong cycle.'

She said she moved in with her biological father but became addicted to drugs and was once again left on the streets.

'I left one family, went to another, went on harder drugs and ended up going in and out of prison,' she said.

'My dream was to work with kids, but as soon as I got a criminal record that was quashed.'

Miss Dyson ended up at Bishopbridge House in Norwich after the breakdown of a relationship.

Since then, she has managed to get back on stable footing, move into separate accommodation, began volunteering and has now secured an apprenticeship.

'They [St Martins] just built my confidence up.

'I had a lot of books to close and open issues that I needed to sort out – and I sorted them out, closed the books and now I've got a clean slate. I'm starting my life again.'

David Smith, 36, said he has been homeless on and off since he was a teenager.

'It was normally through my drug use, because people didn't want me around them,' he said.

'My family were scared of me maybe, didn't want me in the house so I had no alternative.'

Mr Smith has been in and out of prison and spent many nights sleeping on other people's sofas.

'It's depressing,' he said. 'You live in fear and you don't know what's going to happen from one day to the next.'

But eventually he approached St Martins for help.

'I was kind of scared to come in here to be honest,' he said.

'But I came, and got through it without picking up drugs.'

Mr Smith and Miss Dyson now talk to school children about the dangers of addiction as part of St Martins' Reality Check project.

In court for begging

Begging on the street is illegal but it is a sight seen every day on St Stephens

Street in Norwich.

Charities urge people to not give money to beggars as you have no way of knowing where the money is going or if the person is homeless.

One man who asked a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) if he had any change was taken to court last week for begging.

Robert O'Dell, 28, was seen by a PCSO in the Lower Goat Lane area of Norwich and asked the officer 'if he could spare any change'.

O'Dell apologised for the offence, and said he was now selling the Big Issue and hoping to get accommodation at Bishopbridge House.

Derek Player, from St Martins Housing Trust which runs Bishopbridge house, said: 'A prosecution for begging on the streets of Norwich is very unusual.

'This prosecution clearly gives a message because there has been a rise this year in both the numbers of people begging in Norwich and in aggressive begging.

'Although we are struggling at St Martins to offer every rough sleeper a place in our hostel at the moment, our advice to anyone thinking of giving money to a beggar remains the same: don't.'

Jim Graver, from the Big Issue magazine, also said begging was not the solution to homelessness. He said the magazine was set up to give an alternative to begging.

Mr Graver added people begging in Norwich were generally left alone by the authorities

What help is out there?

The first point of help for many homeless people is the city council's housing service.

They rank people into one of five bands depending on how urgent they need accommodation and try to find somewhere for them.

People sleeping rough in Norwich can also get emergency accommodation but only during exceptionally cold weather.

Those faced with housing problems can also contact charity Shelter to get advice by calling 0344 515 1860.

Bishopbridge House on William Kett Close, run by St Martins Housing Trust, also gives people short-term accommodation and helps people to rebuild their lives.

The trust, which only helps single homeless people rather than families, runs various projects through which homeless people can also help the community.

Their 'Reality Check' project – a presentation about addiction run by former homeless people – has now reached 1,300 pupils in Norfolk.

Nicky King, life skills development coordinator at St Martin's Housing Trust, said:

'The idea was that children could take more from our residents having lived the life of substance issues, whereas a teacher couldn't share their personal experiences.

'The volunteers I have are quite prepared to stand there and discuss all the issues they've gone through and the feedback we've had so far is that they just think it's brilliant.

'They are it from the real side of what can go wrong.'

Anyone under the age of 25 needing help with housing can go to the YMCA Norwich Central opposite the city's bus station. The YMCA has 94 beds in the city for young people made homeless.

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