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Rough sleeping triples since 2010 but signs of improvement appear

PUBLISHED: 13:18 30 January 2018 | UPDATED: 13:18 30 January 2018

Evidence of rough sleeping at Ipswich Waterfront. Picture: CONNOR MCLOONE

Evidence of rough sleeping at Ipswich Waterfront. Picture: CONNOR MCLOONE

Archant

The number of rough sleepers in Suffolk and north Essex has almost tripled since 2010, latest Government figures reveal.

Rough sleeping figures in Suffolk and north Essex from 2010 to 2017. Picture: ARCHANT Rough sleeping figures in Suffolk and north Essex from 2010 to 2017. Picture: ARCHANT

The data shows on any given night in 2017 there were 90 people bedding down outside in these areas, rising from 33 seven years previously.

However, the situation has improved since 2016 when there were 103 rough sleepers across nine districts in Suffolk and north Essex.

Ipswich has traditionally bore the brunt of the problem in Suffolk.

On the latest count last autumn, there were 21 people sleeping on the town’s streets, down from 27 the previous year.

Anna Matthews, owner of La Tour Cycle Café. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN Anna Matthews, owner of La Tour Cycle Café. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Anna Matthews, of La Tour Cycle Cafe, runs a breakfast club two days a week at St Michael’s Community Centre in Ipswich for homeless and vulnerable people.

Sessions attract around 35 to 40 people who can eat, enjoy company, read a newspaper or magazine, play board games, expand their skills and engage with services.

From her experience, Mrs Matthews said she had not witnessed a reduction in homelessness and she feared the situation was set to get worse due to soaring living costs.

She said: “I think there’s more and more people finding life a struggle and it might seem like it couldn’t happen to you but you only need to lose your job, maybe split up from your partner and before you know it you are struggling to make ends meet.

A man sleeps rough on the Princes Street bridge near Ipswich train station. Picture: ARCHANT A man sleeps rough on the Princes Street bridge near Ipswich train station. Picture: ARCHANT

“There isn’t a lot of affordable housing any longer and to rent somewhere you need a large deposit nowadays and that’s just not achievable for a lot of people.

“We have a big problem with mental health. The back story for a lot of those people is absolutely heartbreaking.”

When asked what challenges those without a home face, Mrs Matthews said: “I think it’s really difficult to engage with services without actually feeling dehumanised in a way. I think the hoops people have to jump through when you are feeling low and haven’t got any support can be really, really difficult.”

While praising the organisations that work to support homeless people, Mrs Matthews said there was not enough money in the system to properly address the issue.

An Ipswich Borough Council spokesman said: “This is a slight improvement and reflects the extra investment we are making to help homeless people. But we are not complacent, the figure is still too high, and we will continue to work hard to help those in need.”

Rough sleeping decreased in four local authority areas in Suffolk and north Essex from 2016 to 2017, but in St Edmundsbury it rose from 15 to 22.

A spokesman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council said it had prevented more than 500 families from becoming homeless in the last year.

In a bid to tackle the problem, the council has taken on extra staff in its housing team and secured Government funding for a rough sleeper support and prevention worker.

The authority also runs a winter night shelter, which the spokesman said was well used but there were spare beds each night as some people refused the offer of accommodation.

He added: “So helping people is challenging and complex – and of course we would always welcome discussions with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government around exploring new and innovative ways that we, and our communities, can work to address this issue.”

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