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New drive to cut rough sleeping on Norwich’s streets sparks anger

PUBLISHED: 20:45 13 December 2017 | UPDATED: 21:21 13 December 2017

A man and his dog take refuge in the doorway of St John Maddermarket church back in 2015. Photo :Steve Adams

A man and his dog take refuge in the doorway of St John Maddermarket church back in 2015. Photo :Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2015

There was anger as a new drive to reduce the number of people sleeping rough in Norwich was agreed, with critics worried the approach could see more people arrested.

A new strategy aims to reduce rough sleeping in Norwich. Pic: The Benjamin Foundation.A new strategy aims to reduce rough sleeping in Norwich. Pic: The Benjamin Foundation.

The sight of people bedding down in doorways around the city has become increasingly common, with the Norwich rough sleeper unit coming into contact with about 400 rough sleepers in 2016/17 - a 62pc increase.

A newly forged Norwich City Council rough sleeping strategy identifies three priorities City Hall will work on with partners, such as Norfolk police, charities and health services:

• Reduce the number of rough sleepers and intervene to stop rough sleeping happening

• Case manage rough sleepers reluctant to seek help through “assertive” outreach work

• Use supported housing to give people stability and keep them away from homelessness.

But the “assertive” outreach work, which the council says is geared to getting help to those reluctant to accept it, sparked concerns.

And tonight’s meeting of the council’s Labour-controlled cabinet was briefly suspended because emotions were running high.

People who help feed the homeless at the Norwich Soup Movement and People’s Picnic were angry they had not been consulted.

A member of the public also shouted he feared it would see more arrests to get rough sleepers off the streets.

Jan McLachlan, from the Norwich People’s Assembly was nominated to be the spokesperson for the public and said: “It appears to a number of people that the council are more interested in cleaning up the city, rather than helping people.”

With more of the public continuing to make comments, the meeting was suspended for about 10 minutes. After it was reconvened, the strategy was agreed.

Councillors said the strategy’s goal was to reduce rough sleeping by getting people who have tended to refuse help the support they needed and into houses, a move which was welcomed by chief superintendent Dave Marshall, from Norfolk police.

The council hopes to build on a pilot project by St Martins Housing Trust called Housing First, which saw people housed and then their problems, such as mental health or drug dependency, tackled.

Strategy welcomed

The man at the helm of a Norwich homelessness charity welcomed the “ambitious” new strategy, but said “powerful forces” outside the control of the council or charities could hamper efforts to reduce rough sleeping.

Derek Player, general manager of St Martins Housing Trust, said an “overheated private rental sector” is preventing people getting tenancies at affordable rents, while a “chaotic prison discharge system” means people have nowhere to go at the end of their sentence.

He added: “We are transitioning from the old welfare benefits system to the new universal credit regime, with a lot of people experiencing problems with that and we are still reaping the results of the financial crash, in terms of reductions in public funding.”

He said cuts had disproportionately hit homeless people, because they have affected not just housing, but also health and social care.

And Tony Ing, chief executive of The Benjamin Foundation, said: “While our particular focus is on young people aged 16 to 25 years, we are committed to seeing the ending of homelessness in all its forms because of the devastating impact it has on individuals, families and communities

“ We welcome any initiative to address this visible aspect of homelessness understanding this is only one dimension of the challenge, albeit an important one.

“We hope the implementation of this strategy will help turn the growing tide of homelessness by raising awareness and directly tackling the underlying causes.

“We believe prevention is the best solution, but where people are already sleeping rough it is important to make the right interventions to provide the support people need to access housing and feel valued and respected by society.

“ We are pleased to see the strategy places great emphasis on working in partnership across the relevant sectors and look forward to opportunities to do so.”

How having a roof over his head has helped former rough sleeper Colin find stability

Colin, 48, spent nights shivering in the shopfront of Debenhams, during his time rough sleeping.

A combination of relationship breakdowns and alcohol abuse led the former mechanical engineer to lose his home and job.

But, with help, including from St Martins Housing and its Under 1 Roof centre, he has now been sober for more than nine months and rents a home.

He said: “I spent time sleeping in a car, sleeping in a tent and in the doorway of Debenhams. I personally was keen to get help, because I absolutely hated it. All I wanted to do was get drunk every day.”

He said he initially felt “fobbed off” by the city council. But, after a stint in hospital, he was put in touch with them again and they had been “absolutely fantastic” in helping him.

He said having a roof over his head gives him the stability to avoid slipping back into the use of alcohol or drugs.

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