"There is no easy solution" - the human cost of rough sleeping in Norwich
PUBLISHED: 09:19 09 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:38 13 March 2018
At 9am on a drizzly Wednesday morning a woman in her late 40s is clearing away sleeping bags abandoned in a doorway on Davey Place.
Fleeing an abusive relationship, she says she has been sleeping rough in Norwich city centre for two weeks.
Leaving her partner meant she has been declared “intentionally homeless” and ineligible for housing support.
Bundling up blankets, sleeping bags and bottles of urine into bin bags, she tries to avoid the needles left behind from the previous evening.
“These people are giving the rest of us a bad name,” she says of the woman who dumped the rubbish in the doorway. “No wonder people think we’re all horrible. The one who left this here has got a room to go back to.”
The woman, originally from London, is looking to get a room at Bishopbridge House, run by charity St Martins Housing Trust.
“I tried to get into the [Peter Mancroft] church last week but people were drinking and I don’t want to be around that,” she said. “I do go up to the soup kitchen when they are not all fighting each other.”
Police sergeant Mark Shepherd takes her details during a walk around of the city centre to point her in the right direction for some help.
“She is a tragic case because she could be the next victim due to the weather,” he says. “It is the fighting and drug taking she wants to avoid.”
Nearby at the Haymarket a group of four people are drinking super strength lager at 9.10am which police confiscate.
One is a woman who has recently arrived in Norwich, and has bruises on her face. Her friend says she has also just escaped an abusive relationship and asks for details for Bishopbridge House.
Another of the group has only just been allowed to return to the city centre after being handed a 48-hour dispersal notice for sniffing a drug called amyl nitrate.
One man, originally from Bulgaria, meanwhile, cannot claim benefits in this country yet and has difficulty finding work.
“This is a problem for me because I don’t want to be on the streets,” he says. “It’s a problem for police because they have to come here and it’s a problem for the council.”
Just being on the street is also becoming more difficult. In the last four years, the number of rough sleepers the city council has come across has soared from 250 to 400, and city centre businesses are taking measures to protect their trade.
The Halifax on Exchange Street has recently installed a gate to prevent people using their doorway, and signs are going up warning people of causing a fire hazard by blocking exits with sleeping bags and belongings.
Market trader Mark Wright, 49, said they are getting security put in place by the council for three months from March 13, partly due to a rise in street drinking and anti-social behaviour.
“We have had issues with people drinking and anti-social behaviour for 10 years but it started really strong just before last summer when we had an influx of people arriving in Norwich,” he said. “If people do not feel safe they won’t shop here, it’s as simple as that.
“Because there has been no security here it’s seen as people can do what they like, but it has improved a lot since last summer.
“There was a point last summer where I thought we could lose this city as a shopping destination. There is always a tipping point, where you can put out a small fire but you can’t put out a big one.”
“There is not an easy solution,” added Sgt Shepherd.
“The fact is most of these people have a vulnerability of some sort - either an addiction or mental health issues.
“Police would like the council to adopt the alternative giving scheme where people can give to charities rather than people sitting in a doorway.
“We have asked the city council to provide lockers for homeless people to keep their belongings but that hasn’t happened.
“There are so many different situations. There are those genuinely sitting in doorways because there is nowhere else to go, and we have those walking around begging, or sitting up at the Haymarket drinking all day.
“If you are homeless and have a drug or alcohol addiction and you do not have to buy food because you can get it for free, that sustains your lifestyle.
“They will continue doing what they are doing until they address the drug or alcohol addiction. It is only a short term solution for us to reduce the fear of crime and disorder, but the long term solution is to deal with their addictions and vulnerabilities.”
Drug and alcohol outreach
More than one in 10 people in drug or alcohol treatment in Norwich have housing problems, according to a charity.
Norfolk Recovery Partnership - tasked with helping addicts through recovery for drug abuse - works with people living on the streets or with unstable accommodation.
According to the latest figures for the city centre, more than 15pc of NRP service users have housing problems. That figure is halved after six months of treatment.
Denise Grimes, from NRP, said: “Homelessness, addiction and mental health problems are complex. There may be similarities, but no two people are the same, and likewise, no two homeless people are the same.”
Experts said drug or alcohol addiction is often seen as a cause of homelessness but often it is a symptom - once people start sleeping on the streets they drink more heavily or take drugs.
NRP provides sessions at Bishop Bridge House, City Reach, Purfleet and Herring House Trust.
A national issue
Norwich is not an isolated case.
Across Norfolk and Waveney the number of rough sleepers have soared between 2015/16 and 2016/17.
According to the National Audit Office in King’s Lynn the number increased from five to 42 while in Waveney, it went from six to 20.
According to their report, the main reasons for people becoming homeless in those areas was mostly due to housing issues and relationship breakdowns.
The figures echo the national picture, which has seen the number of rough sleepers across England almost double from 2,309 in 2012/13 to 4,134 in 2016/17.
In 2016/17 Broadland reportedly had no rough sleepers in its district, but had 59 people in temporary accommodation.
Meanwhile, in the same year, Great Yarmouth had 50 in temporary accommodation and seven rough sleepers.
The report also found that local authority spending on homelessness had decreased.
In Norwich, more than £11.7m was spent on housing and homelessness services in 2009/10. It fell to £7.1m in 2015/16.
Who can help?
Agencies who can help rough sleepers in Norwich include;
-Shelter, Whitefriars House, Fishergate: 0344 515 1860
-Bishop Bridge House, 45 William Kett Close: 01603 666563
-City Reach health Service, Under 1 Roof, Westwick Street: 0800 0287174
-The Big Issue, Pottergate ARC: 01603 613865
-Pottergate ARC: 01603 663496
-Homeless Outreach team, The Matthew Project, Pottergate: 0800 764754
-Citizens Advice Bureau, St Crispins House, St George’s Street: 01603 660857
-Norwich City Council, City Hall: 0344 980 3333
-The Magdalene Group: 61 King Street: 01603 610256
-Kings Community Church, King Street: 01603 765795
-Norfolk Recovery Partnership, 7 Unthank Road: 0300790 0227
-Mancroft Advice Project, Chantry Road: 01603 766994
-YMCA Norfolk, John Drake House, 10 Winalls Yard: 01603 877950