Man’s 27-year dream for new outreach bus for the homeless to be realised

Ian Walters, who manages Ipswich soup kitchen, who is behind the Outreach Bus project

Ian Walters, who manages Ipswich soup kitchen, who is behind the Outreach Bus project - Credit: Archant

Homeless and vulnerable people in Ipswich town centre will soon be able to access the help they need through a new outreach bus, which is being funded partly by a new charity shop.

Ian Walters runs the Ipswich Soup Kitchen. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Ian Walters runs the Ipswich Soup Kitchen. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

The Ipswich Outreach bus is the brainchild of Ian Walters, who is very familiar with the challenges facing homeless people because he has been running the town’s soup kitchen for the last 15 years.

He claims that contrary to most people’s perceptions, the last thing that many homeless people need is a home.

“We have to deal with their issues first before we offer them a place to live,” he explained.

“Usually, they are back to being homeless within two weeks of moving in somewhere, because their previous issues were not addressed. Some people can’t cope with an ordinary life.”

Ipswich Outreach store in Ipswich

Ipswich Outreach store in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

The bus, which has been ordered and will be rolling into town in nine weeks time, will provide specialist mental health support not just for the homeless, but for those people living on the breadline.

Mr Walters explained that In Ipswich at the moment, although the numbers of homeless remains steady, there are lots more who are borderline homeless.

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“We want to help prevent those who are on the brink of homelessness from getting to that point,” he said.

“At the soup kitchen, we’re seeing a lot more people who are struggling because of Universal Credit and mental health problems.

Ipswich outreach volunteer

Ipswich outreach volunteer - Credit: Archant

“I need other agencies to work with us on the streets.

“Many people in crisis who are not homeless and not addicted to drugs don’t come under anyone’s umbrella - we see them in the soup kitchen, but we are the only ones, and we’re not experts in mental health.

“We can feed them, but other organisations can take them further through this bus.”

The new bus will also double-up as an SOS station for revellers spilling out of pubs and clubs.

nside the IIpswich Outreach store in Ipswich

nside the IIpswich Outreach store in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

“I’m bringing on board town pastors, to help get people sobered up and see about getting them home,” Mr Walters explained.

“Hopefully, that will free up A&E and ambulance services, which are overwhelmed in Ipswich at the moment.”

A&E and paramedics are supportive of the bus project, raising £1,000 through a charity football match to help get it up and running.

The new charity shop, which opened last month on Westgate Street, is helping to secure funding to operate the bus.

IFour years ago, the shop was a butchers, and has been empty ever since.

Shop volunteer Vanessa Roberts, who is also Mr Walters’ niece, wanted to get involved in the project because she felt it was important to get people on the streets access to mental health nurses.

“The homeless don’t go to a doctor to share their problems,” she said.

“But when they go to the soup kitchen and see people who know them, they talk to them.”

She says the bus, and the shop funding it, has been a dream of her uncle’s for the last 27 years.

She said: “It’s taken family and friends to volunteer and then others to back it to get this shop open.”

Although the shop is proving popular, not everyone wants to pay for items.

“I’ve caught a few shoplifters. But I’m quite determined to make it blatantly obvious that it’s not acceptable, this is a charity shop,” Ms Roberts added.

Mr Walters believes that there is no shortage of overnight accommodation in Ipswich for the homeless. As well as the year-round hostels, seven town centre churches, with 12 beds in each, have just opened up for the winter season to ensure that the homeless can take shelter from bad weather.