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Dramatic fall in rough sleeping in town is revealed

Picture: IAN BURT

Picture: IAN BURT

Archant 2018

Rough sleeping in a town centre has fallen dramatically due to a multipronged attack on the causes of homelessness, it has been revealed.

Julia Hancock, manager of the Selig (Suffolk) Trust, which runs Ipswich Winter Night Shelter. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHJulia Hancock, manager of the Selig (Suffolk) Trust, which runs Ipswich Winter Night Shelter. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Ipswich, like many places across the country, has seen rising numbers of people sleeping on the streets in freezing temperatures over the winter in recent times, as more people struggle to make ends meet.

The problem has got worse in the past couple of years as problems with the new Universal Credit benefits system have resulted in many being left unable to pay bills.

Yet while the official rough sleeping count for Ipswich over the 2017-18 winter was 27, outreach workers tackling the problem this year say the tally is “only just in double figures”.

However they have urged people not to rest on their laurels and continue to see homelessness as a “365-day problem” that needs an all-year round focus.

The Ipswich Winter Night Shelter at the St Nicholas Centre in Cutler Street. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHThe Ipswich Winter Night Shelter at the St Nicholas Centre in Cutler Street. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Evelyn Crossland – manager of the Ipswich-based Chapman Centre, which provides support to homeless people – said: “The number of rough sleepers in the town has significantly reduced and this is the result of the local authority bringing together partners from the voluntary and charitable sector to deliver specific targeted work with our homeless population.”

As well as the Chapman Centre providing 27 emergency beds in Ipswich where homeless people can access hot food, showers, laundry and more seven days a week, a multi-agency team of workers is tackling the issue.

That includes a team who do a sweep of Ipswich’s streets every morning to try and engage with rough sleepers, as well as the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) employing senior mental health worker Jonathan Dickson to support homeless people on a year-long pilot.

Ipswich Winter Night Shelter has also operated for longer this winter after opening its doors on October 11, so it has a greater opportunity to provide long-term support to people out on the street.

Support is available for homeless people in Ipswich this Christmas. Picture: IAN BURTSupport is available for homeless people in Ipswich this Christmas. Picture: IAN BURT

It was given £56,000 of extra government funding this winter to allow it to open eight weeks longer.

In addition there has been greater support for homeless people over the Christmas period, with the Winter Night Shelter opening all day on December 25 and taking guests for lunch at the Harvester restaurant at Cardinal Park.

A group of organisations under the umbrella of Help Our Homeless, led by the Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership, and managed by Susie Mills, also tries to inform people of the range of services available for people in Ipswich.

Julia Hancock – business manager of the Selig (Suffolk) Trust, the charity behind the Winter Night Shelter – said: “There’s been a huge amount of extra money spent and we’re really seeing the result of that.

The Ipswich Winter Night Shelter at the St Nicholas Centre in Cutler Street. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHThe Ipswich Winter Night Shelter at the St Nicholas Centre in Cutler Street. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

“The number of rough sleepers is definitely a lot lower, although it might not seem like that.

“The public probably think there are lots of rough sleepers but an outreach team goes out in the morning and finds people who are genuinely sleeping rough, and at the moment it is lower than it has ever been.

“Since we opened we’re only just in double figures – the official count last year was 27.”

However Ms Crossland said that despite the good work: “Sleeping rough is unpleasant, dangerous and hard, especially in extreme weather but if a person does not want to change their behaviour, then no amount of support or help will make them do so.”

The Ipswich Winter Night Shelter at the St Nicholas Centre in Cutler Street. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHThe Ipswich Winter Night Shelter at the St Nicholas Centre in Cutler Street. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Neil MacDonald, portfolio holder for housing and health at Ipswich Borough Council, said central government still needs to do more to help Suffolk tackle the issue.

“Homelessness is a problem all year round,” he said.

“It is an ongoing problem because fundamentally the government aren’t doing enough to tackle the two main causes – a lack of social housing and Universal Credit.”

Mr MacDonald also encouraged people to report any rough sleepers they see by emailing roughsleeping.enquiries@ipswich.gov.uk

People can also report examples of rough sleeping by visiting streetlink.org.uk – which, although a national website, goes to an outreach worker at the Chapman Centre.

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