Living in the “nooks and crannies” of Norwich - new outreach service seeks out rough sleepers
PUBLISHED: 19:00 27 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:02 28 July 2018
Tucked away in the corner of a disused car park behind Mountergate sits a tent surrounded by clothes, a washing line and drug paraphernalia.
Inside sleeps a man from Latvia, who says he has been sleeping rough in Norwich for a year. He has no benefits or money coming in, and is discovered at 6.30am by outreach workers from the new Pathways service.
Support workers including Brendan Wilson and Tara Murphy scour the “nooks and crannies” of the city where the rough sleeping population are seeking refuge.
Over recent weeks the Pathways team have been out on the streets at least twice a day, talking to rough sleepers and beggars to forge links with the homeless community.
They can then help them get any support they need, and identify new rough sleepers faster. It could be a sit-up service with four beds at Bishopbridge House, or helping access benefits.
“The stigma around homelessness is not always about drugs or alcohol,” said support worker Ms Murphy. “It can happen to anybody at any time.
“Ideally we can get a plan in place to help them through the system and get the best outcome in the shortest period of time.
“We have got some regulars who have been on the streets for years and refuse to engage. One day they might say yes.”
During the “street count”, conducted twice a week, outreach workers check to see if rough sleepers are breathing, investigate sleep sites and gather information on the people out on the streets.
The first uncovered on Friday morning was a tent buried within bushes on Riverside Walk. Nobody was home. But blood on the bedding indicated drug use, and the team will keep revisiting the site over coming days.
On Mountergate, police have told the Pathways team of a squat house. Support workers won’t go inside but will talk to the occupants when they see them on the street.
“Part of the process is verifying rough sleeping - actually seeing them bedded down in the street,” said Mr Wilson. “People can identify themselves as rough sleepers but until we verify it we don’t know.
“If we can catch anymore information to get them onto our system that can help us build a picture by sharing that within the consortium.
“There is a transient nature of homelessness, and it is a product of a chaotic life. We are trying to give them a little stability.
“That can be getting them a roof over their head for the night.”
Spotting the tent in a car park off Mountergate, the outreach team enter through a gate tied up with string to find a ramshackle living room.
A table has been covered with metal fencing, and surrounded by needles, male and female clothes, a bicycle and a bottle for a toilet.
Passing through, the concrete ground of the car park is strewn with blankets, clothes and detritus.
Mr Wilson says he visited the area the previous week and reported used needles which the council were alerted to.
While the car park was being used, rough sleepers will often move between sleep sites around the city.
Ms Murphy added: “We look in the nooks and crannies. The ones who do not want to be found can just pack up their life and move on. Unless you are actually looking for them you are not going to see it.”
During one morning the team come across 10 rough sleepers, including nine bedded down outside Debenhams. One is a teenager new to the area from Hackney.
Ms Murphy added the community who sleep in shop doorways will often clear up after themselves - and vanish before the shops open their doors for the morning.
“During the afternoon outreach we start to come across the beggars,” added Mr Wilson. “You have to think why are they begging? Often it is because they have no benefits in place.
“If you spend enough of your life accessing services at some point something is going to let you down. We listen and we try to give them a solution, but it is all about choices.
“You can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to.”
Rough sleepers will be advised to go to the Pottergate ARC at 8am for an assessment. But often there is a shortage of beds at Bishopbridge House.
Ms Murphy added: “Sometimes as much as we feel for a lot of these people, we have got a file full up with people waiting but can’t accommodate them, so they have to keep presenting and hoping for a vacancy.
“If we don’t find anyone - that is a good day.”
Project aims for easier access
The Pathways project was launched last week - a collaboration between St Martins, Shelter, YMCA Norfolk, The Salvation Army, City Reach, The Feed and Future Projects - in a bid to make it easier for those in need to access support.
The project, which was commissioned by the city council in March, has recruited a variety of individuals, including health practitioners, advisors and police liaisons, who are in place to offer this support.
The partnership, which has secured initial funding of £758,457, is led by St Martins Housing Trust.
Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of the trust, said: “Rain or shine, the Pathways outreach team goes out every day to offer support and advice to people who are sleeping rough in the city and also to respond to reports of those who might be vulnerable.
“We check on the wellbeing of people, including those who may be particularly suffering in the hot weather.”
The Pathways team can be contacted via 01603 980799.