Concerns raised over handouts to rough sleepers in centre of Norwich
PUBLISHED: 15:50 28 June 2018 | UPDATED: 17:04 28 June 2018
©Archant Photographic 2009
A city councillor has entered the debate over the impact of groups providing food for the homeless, claiming they may add to the problem.
But one of the groups trying to help the homeless in Norwich city centre says there is little other help available for those in need.
Responding to a question from fellow Labour city councillor Hugo Malik, cabinet member Kevin Maguire raised concerns over the impact of soup kitchen services on offer in Haymarket.
He said: “The current outdoor food provision whilst well meaning, perpetuates issues of dependency and does not allow the individuals to move on from rough sleeping.
“The food provision on Haymarket also results in the area being a significant hotspot for crime, drugs, street drinking and anti-social behaviour.”
Volunteers from the Salvation Army are among those who provide hot food and drink in the Haymarket, and have been doing so for 30 years.
Their spokesperson said: “We recognise that not only are people less likely to access the support they need to address the issues that have led to homelessness if they are hungry, but also if there is no easily-accessible facility from which they can get help.
“Many people who are experiencing homelessness feel isolated. We want them to know there are people who care and want to help.
“Some people do not feel able to come into our advice and refreshment centre on Pottergate and therefore we feel the need to bring our support to them at the Haymarket, a central location in the city.”
The concerns come at a time where the number of people living in temporary accommodation has almost doubled in a year, up to 50 people - compared with 30 in 2017.
Mr Maguire, the city council’s cabinet member for safe city environment, said the council was working alongside The Feed charity to launch a new food service for vulnerable people.
He said: “There is already considerable provision at various locations in the neighbourhoods, but further provision in the city centre area is required.
“The Feed have been exploring a model for a social enterprise sandwich shop, which is also used as training and food provision for the homeless in Norwich in the evening - with support of the council.”
The charity has recently secured a property on Prince of Wales Road, where it will be based.
A crowdfunding page set up by the charity to help make the project happen is already more than halfway to its £20,000 target.
Sergeant Mark Shepherd, of Norfolk police’s Norwich East safer neighbourhood team, said he agreed the area had been a problem in the past, but that there had been fewer issues in the last few weeks.
He said: “In the past year we have had a dramatic reduction in anti-social behaviour during the day. However, it is no surprise in the early hours and in the evening there is an increase in the demand for our services.
“However, I’m very pleased to say that in the past eight weeks I cannot recall receiving a single call to the Haymarket.”
Sgt Shepherd said he was strongly in support of indoor food provision, urging the council to work alongside the volunteer organisations to provide the safest possible service.
He said: “With indoor provision, there is the possibility to offer the use of toilets and showers, neither of which can be achieved outdoors.
“If everybody can work together it will be a better service for everybody.”
It is not the first time the issue of whether handouts are the best way to help the homeless has been debated, with Big Issue founder John Bird among those to have raised the issue.
Two other groups also operating in Haymarket - The Peoples’ Picnic and The Norwich Soup Movement - were approached for comment but had not responded by the time of publishing.
But Lex Barber, who has volunteered at the soup kitchens in Haymarket, said in March that volunteers help a range of people, not just the homeless - from the elderly who cannot cook themselves a meal safely to vulnerable and ill people unable to look after themselves.
She said soup kitchens would continue to play an important role until wider issues, including accommodation for vulnerable people, were resolved.
Mr Maguire’s comments came after fellow Labour councillor Hugo Malik asked for an update on the progress of Norwich City Council’s Making Every Adult Matter pathways strategy.
The strategy launched in February and has seen an extra £1m of funding secured to tackling the issues that come with rough sleeping.
Mr Maguire said: “We have commissioned the new pathways project to bring together all the key specialist agencies to provide a collective response to all the issues faced by rough sleepers, rather than dealing with them in isolation.
“As part of this project, The Feed are rasing funds to provide an inside food facility with all the essential wrap-around support needed.
“As well as our pathways partners, we continue to work with the police on what is an incredibly complex issue faced by city centres across the country.”