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Meet Matthew - the rough sleeper who has stolen the hearts of a Norfolk market town

PUBLISHED: 09:31 19 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:37 19 October 2019

Matthew, who appeared in Fakenham about two weeks ago, originally became homeless two years ago after falling on hard times. Picture: Archant

Matthew, who appeared in Fakenham about two weeks ago, originally became homeless two years ago after falling on hard times. Picture: Archant

Archant

A homeless man whose future has been publicly debated by two councils has told the shocking story of how he came to be sleeping in a tent in a Norfolk town.

The view of Fakenham town centre from the tower of the parish church. Photo: IAN BURTThe view of Fakenham town centre from the tower of the parish church. Photo: IAN BURT

Matthew, who appeared in Fakenham about two weeks ago, originally began sleeping on the streets two years ago after falling on hard times.

He said: "My money was stolen when I was living in a hostel in Ipswich.

"It was stolen while I was on crutches, I could not chase after them."

Matthew was physically attacked during the incident.

Fakenham's busy market. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYFakenham's busy market. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The 24-year-old was left with a broken tibia and fibula, an injury that he is still being treated for today.

He said: "After this I moved on to Norwich where I would constantly get into fights and would have drugs easily accessible. This is something I wanted to get away from.

MORE: 'It could encourage him to stay in the area' - council officer warns against helping homeless man

"I had enough money to get one bus. I knew I wanted to go somewhere quieter and got on the Fakenham bus."

Born in Bury St Edmunds, Matthew was brought up in the care system and has moved around various parts of Norfolk and Suffolk since becoming homeless.

When on the streets of Norwich, Matthew admits to using drugs to "get away from it all" but wanted to move away from the city when he became worried about his mental and physical health.

After becoming homeless, Matthew was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, anxiety and depression.

He said: "Being on the streets makes me feel suicidal and depressed.

"You spend a lot of time on your own and thinking about things, it is very lonely.

"Since coming to Fakenham everybody has been so nice to me, I can't put into words how grateful I am.

"This is the most welcome I have felt since becoming homeless.

"I feel like the people in the town don't judge me and see me as somebody that needs some help."

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The community of Fakenham banded together to give Matthew tents, food and clothes.

One local resident has let Matthew stay in his home for a couple of days when temperatures dipped.

Matthew said: "I'm so grateful to them for letting me stay in their home, having a comfy sofa was nice and just the communication and having people to chat with."

On Wednesday, Matthew's story was discussed at a North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) overview and scrutiny committee meeting, during a debate on the council's rough sleeping strategy.

During the meeting, it was heard how people in Fakenham had been discussing, on social media, ways to support Matthew, including providing a tent and warm clothes.

It was also argued that 24-year-old, who has connections to south Norfolk, should have his welfare taken care of by South Norfolk Council.

It was said that he had been offered accommodation in south Norfolk, which he refused.

Matthew said: "I feel like North Norfolk District Council could be doing more to help me, just because I have connections in other places doesn't mean that I want to live there. I feel like they don't understand me.

"I came to somewhere quieter to start a new life away from drugs. I have found Fakenham to be really welcoming and would like to stay here."

NNDC plan to work with the mental health trust and local prisons to produce a Homelessness Prevention Protocol, to help people land back on their feet.

The council is also planning to increase access to good quality accommodation in the private rented sector.

When asked to comment on Matthew's case, a spokesman for NNDC said: "The district council provides advice and support to many individuals who are homeless or face homelessness.

"Officers work very hard to deliver this support but the council cannot make comments on individual cases.

"The authority is currently inviting public comments on a new Homeless and Rough Sleepers Strategy which details the scale of the issue in north Norfolk and the support and interventions the authority to all persons in such a situation.

"People are able to comment on the Strategy document which can be viewed on the Council's website: www.north-norfolk.gov.uk/tasks/housing-services/public-consultation-for-homelessness-and-rough-sleeping-strategy/ until November 4, 2019."

Now, Matthew will head back onto the streets of Fakenham while the council decides his fate.

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