Two people reported rough sleeping every day in Ipswich last month

Rough sleepers in Ipswich have moved out of the town centre during the coronavirus lockdown Picture:

Supports workers pray they do not find rough sleepers in Ipswich - Credit: RENNY HAMMOND

Sleeping on the steps of an Ipswich church, a couple huddle for warmth, and debate whether to get up to wander the streets of Ipswich. 

Ipswich Borough Council estimates around two people were reported every day to their housing team in November, with organisations heading out daily to offer further support to those living on the street. 

Ipswich Cornhill at Christmas

Christmas lights at the Cornhill - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

On Friday, the Ipswich Star met a couple, who were lying on top of a mattress, centimetres from cold stone, while rain splashes fell near their bed. A friend in a sleeping bag slept nearby. 

Adam, which is not his real name, told the Ipswich Star: "I don't understand why they can't house us together.

"It's horrible, we have no sleeping bags.

"There are really good people out there that have given us food.

"I'm so glad they didn't have to go through what we went through."

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But the church offers some protection for Adam, he explained: "It's nice here, you can sit down, no one will bother you." 

Samantha, which is not her real name, said: "We want to be together. It's hard. 

"When it's cold, we don't get up all day. What do we do? It's too cold to sit on the street but you can't do that every day."

Adam has been offered a bed but refused because of Samantha and is now speaking with the council, who are helping. 

The man and woman are found by outreach service Ipswich Housing Action Group (ihAg). 

Staff member Renny Hammond spends every morning walking through the town centre and surrounding areas to build relationships with those in distress. 

Beginning at the Chapman Centre in Black Horse Lane, he then searches the doorways, car parks, churches for signs of life, hoping he finds no one sleeping rough. 

Renny Hammond, Ipswich Housing Action Group worker

Renny Hammond, Ipswich Housing Action Group worker - Credit: Archant

Mr Hammond said: "The odd thing about this job is that I'm trying to make myself redundant. 

"There are too many who die too young. According to a study by Crisis, the average life expectancy of homeless people is 47." 

Since 2013, the deaths of 14 people who were identified as homeless have been reported in the Ipswich Borough Council area, say the ONS. This included two reports in 2020. 

Regularly during these walks through the town, checking such areas as The Buttermarket, the Cornhill, Carr Street and up near Christchurch Park, Mr Hammond will be stopped by those he has built a rapport with and need his help. 

"Many are not rough sleeping and have beds to go to but lead chaotic lives too often caused by addiction, mental health problems and learning difficulties and sometimes all three,” Mr Hammond claims. 

He refers them to organisations who can help, such as Ipswich Borough Council housing to register as homeless, and to the Health Outreach Project (HOP) for health support as people find it difficult to meet hospital and doctor appointments. 

The Rough Sleeper Initiative, of which he is part, also provides mental health outreach and in-reach supports to help those in danger of losing their tenancies. The Chapman Centre provides help with benefits and housing advice.   

"The problem of homelessness and rough sleeping is far more complicated and nuanced than people realise," he said. "Some people simply don’t want to engage with us. It takes a lot of time, patience and determination to build relationships."

"We see a lot of ex-servicemen who may have post-traumatic stress disorder don't want to trust anybody. 

"They tend to avoid people and sleep on the outskirts of town. Once they have been found, they tend not to stick around.

"It can take years for us to get people in off the streets."

The north entrance to the Buttermarket in Ipswich as it currently looks.

Buttermarket, Ipswich - Credit: Jason Noble

He described one instance where a woman had refused to speak with ihAg for several years. She is now in accommodation and receiving support for addiction. 

When Mr Hammond returns to the Chapman Centre, he makes a note of all the people that need support and starts getting in contact with other support providers to get them help. 

The Rough Sleeper Initiative, the Chapman Centre, housing associations, HOP, Anglia Care Trust, IBC, Sanctuary Supported Living, Selig (winter night shelter) and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Suffolk police and street rangers all work together to get people off the streets.

"We share information so that we can target support in the right way to ensure rough sleepers have every opportunity to turn their lives around," he said. "It’s a very effective way of working."

"This week I've managed to get two people into the Ipswich Winter Night Shelter on the same day they’ve been found. The Night Shelter staff will now work with them to try and move them onto longer-term supported accommodation or their own flat.

"It works most of the time but sometimes it's slower." 

He added: "Don't give [those begging] cash. Nine times out of 10 it won't be spent on the right thing. Buy them food." 

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