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Number of rough sleepers drops by nearly 80pc in West Norfolk but problem is still growing

PUBLISHED: 13:33 01 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:33 01 February 2018

Homeless man Mark Bruneel is hoping to be given somewhere to live soon in Dereham. Picture: Ian Burt

Homeless man Mark Bruneel is hoping to be given somewhere to live soon in Dereham. Picture: Ian Burt

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The number of rough sleepers has decreased in West Norfolk despite national figures showing homelessness figures rising for the seventh year in a row.

Homeless man Mark Bruneel has been living in a High Street doorway in King's Lynn since last December. Picture: Ian BurtHomeless man Mark Bruneel has been living in a High Street doorway in King's Lynn since last December. Picture: Ian Burt

In a snapshot count of rough sleepers in November 2017, West Norfolk council found nine people sleeping on the streets compared to 42 in the previous year, a decrease of nearly 80pc.

National figures released by the government earlier this month showed there were 4,751 rough sleepers in Autumn 2017, an increase of 173 compared to 2016.

Rough sleeping increased by 18pc in London and 14pc in areas outside of the capital. Of those found sleeping on the streets, 14pc were women and 16pc were EU nationals from outside the UK .

Homeless man Mark Bruneel has been living in a High Street doorway in King's Lynn since last December. Picture: Ian BurtHomeless man Mark Bruneel has been living in a High Street doorway in King's Lynn since last December. Picture: Ian Burt

Of the nine who were found to be sleeping rough in Kings’ Lynn and West Norfolk, four were female, one was an EU national and eight were over the age of 25.

On the same night, 63 people were found to be without a home, with some sofa-surfing or sleeping in hospitals and emergency shelters.

But chief executive of homeless charity Purfleet Trust, Paula Hall, said the snapshot figures are not a true reflection of reality.

“We have a lot more people who are homeless than ever before,” she said. “We shouldn’t focus too much on numbers but it does give you an idea of the level of homelessness on a national level.

“We have a lot more of the public calling us to talk about rough sleepers, it is becoming much more visible now and a problem we can’t ignore.

“It is not only becoming more prevalent but more complex, at the moment homeless people need additional support.”

A report by West Norfolk council’s housing and community cabinet also described the reasons for homelessness and rough sleeping in the area as “complex”. It cited one reason as being the “break in the link between housing costs and housing benefit levels.”

Another factor highlighted in the report is the closure and decline in the number of services that have helped prevent homelessness in the past, including drug and alcohol recovery services and mental health support. Overall, 59pc of these services have been cut across the country.

Ms Hall said services like the Purfleet Trust are left to make up the shortfall, adding: “Services can’t meet the demands left by cuts and individuals are not getting the support they need for managing everyday tasks. A consequence of that is that they are at greater risk of becoming homeless.

“There needs to be more funding where it is needed.”

Latest figures shows there are 990 people waiting to be housed in West Norfolk through the council-run housing bid scheme Homechoice, with 185 falling in the “high housing need” category.

Ms Hall there is not enough housing to meet the demands, which is a problem mirrored elsewhere in the country. 
She added: “The changes to the welfare system has led to far fewer private landlords who will accept people on benefits - they see them as a risk.

“And it is really difficult to find good quality and affordable accommodation.”

On a scheme called Smart Move, the Purfleet Trust worked closely with 84 private landlords to help 154 service users find accommodation.

But the charity had to close down the scheme three years ago after all 84 landlords left the scheme in a panic over the rolling out of Universal Credit.

Ms Hall said people on benefits are sometimes demonised for not being in work, adding: “They [private landlords] just didn’t trust they will get paid, even the council are struggling to find private landlords.

“If people go through letting agents then it is their policy that stands - if you don’t have a job, you don’t get a house.

“There are people who legitimately can’t work, and it might be for a physical or mental reason. Putting additional stress on that person is unacceptable.”

The trust supports more than 30 people in their training houses to help them acquire skills in managing a tenancy and build confidence in gaining employment.

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