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Soup kitchen's army of helpers keep hunger at bay for town's most in need

PUBLISHED: 11:30 16 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:00 18 February 2019

Ian Walters, who manages Ipswich soup kitchen, prepares for another night helping the homeless and vulnerable Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Ian Walters, who manages Ipswich soup kitchen, prepares for another night helping the homeless and vulnerable Picture: CONTRIBUTED

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It is a bitterly cold winter's evening, with temperatures forecast to fall further overnight and a crowd of people, each rubbing their hands and stomping their feet to keep warm, has gathered in Ipswich's Elm Street.

It is not a night for gathering on the street, but many of those here haven’t enjoyed the comforts of a warm bed for weeks.

They are waiting for what might be their only hot meal of the day.

At 7.30pm the Ipswich soup kitchen’s van pulls up, laden with vats of steaming tea and soup, sandwiches and freshly fried chips.

The Ipswich Soup Kitchen team, led by Ian Walters Picture: GEMMA MITCHELLThe Ipswich Soup Kitchen team, led by Ian Walters Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL

The team of soup kitchen volunteers unload the nourishing food onto serving stations while the crowd forms itself into an orderly queue.

In what has become a nightly routine for many, they move from one station to the next, gratefully receiving the warm food and drink, many returning for a second helping.

Not all of tonight’s customers are homeless; some have found sheltered accommodation, others have mental health challenges.

Rupert, 34, had been sleeping rough in Ipswich before he found a place at the winter night shelter, and then accommodation through Anglia Care Trust.

Mr Walters is hoping to launch an outreach bus to help vulnreable people in the town. Picture: GREGG BROWNMr Walters is hoping to launch an outreach bus to help vulnreable people in the town. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“I’m getting more help now, but it’s still hard,” he said.

“I was homeless for around two years before I got any support.

“There was nothing for a long time.

“I’ve got no family, my friend had a pub that I was helping him to run, but the business was dead, he moved back to Clacton and that left me out on the streets.

Deputy mayor of Ipswich Roger Fern and mayor Sarah Barber launch the Help Our Homeless Project in Ipswich in 2017 Picture: PAGEPIXDeputy mayor of Ipswich Roger Fern and mayor Sarah Barber launch the Help Our Homeless Project in Ipswich in 2017 Picture: PAGEPIX

“I was sleeping rough, usually in Norwich Road, because there’s better lighting around there and it feels safer because the police drive up and down.

“It feels dangerous for people sleeping out when they turn the street lights off.

“I stayed by myself, I didn’t want to be around other people.

“I’ve been in with the Anglia Care Trust since November. But there are still people hidden away all over the place; they’ll be looking for shelter anywhere they can find it.”

Of those sleeping rough, many have come to Ipswich from abroad, fallen on hard times and struggled to access services.

Paul, 36, came to Ipswich from Germany around 12 years ago to work in construction, but has been on the streets for the past two years.

“I’ll find a shop doorway to sleep in,” he said.

“It’s a different place each night, as people don’t like to find you there in the morning.

“At around 6am or 7am, everyone gets up and moves on because that’s when people start to open the shop doors.

“ People don’t respect you when you’re living on the streets.

“I want to get back into work in construction but there’s not much work about at the moment.”

Ian Walters, who runs the soup kitchen and has been with the Salvation Army in Ipswich for 26 years, said most homeless people in the town were “well looked after” and could find the support they needed to get accommodation.

Those who remained on the streets, he said, tended to be associated with “chaotic lifestyles”, such as drink or drugs.

“At the moment the biggest problem is the people who just can’t manage to get by,” he added.

“They’ve got a home and they may be in work, but things like Universal Credit mean they’re getting sanctioned so they don’t have any money to put food on the table, and they’re turning to our services in times of need.

“These people often haven’t found themselves in these situations before and so they don’t know where to turn for help. That’s where we can help to point them in the right direction.”

Mr Walters said he had been heartened by the support given to the Ipswich soup kitchen. Some 200 volunteers take part in the nightly sessions, meeting at the Salvation Army centre in Woodbridge Road, giving up their evenings to cook, serve and clean.

Jules Sparkes, who signed up recently as a volunteer with her friend Amanda Old, said she wanted to give something back to the community.

“The first time we went it was a really humbling feeling,” she said. “As we came around the corner, there were all of these people there waiting for us.

“To us, food seems like the most easily accessible things, and yet to these people, it’s a basic thing that they don’t have.

“Lots of the people have got stories to tell and they just want someone to talk to.”

Ms Old added: “All of the volunteers we’ve met so far have made us feel so welcome.”

Mr Walters is hoping to launch an ‘Outreach Bus’ offering a range of services for the homeless.

Visit www.ipswichoutreachbus.co.uk for more.

Partnership working credit for ‘dramatic’ reduction in rough sleeping

Members of a 30-strong partnership of organisations working to help the homeless in Ipswich say their team efforts have “dramatically reduced” rough sleeping in the town.

The Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership formed to co-ordinate services helping rough sleepers and those at risk of losing their homes.

ILHP manager Susie Mills said the partnership, which includes health and housing providers, councils, police and charities, had become a “huge and valuable resource for the town”.

One of its main aims is to ensure homeless people have access to the services they need.

Kat Saunders, clinical manager for Health Outreach, which is run by NHS Essex University Partnership, said many marginalised and vulnerable adults faced “huge difficulties” accessing mainstream services.

She said particular problems for the homeless community included conditions related to poor hygiene, nutrition or weather-related issues such as hypothermia in the winter and extreme sunburn or sun stroke in the summer.

Outreach workers also work with Suffolk police to carry out regular morning patrols checking on rough sleepers. Ipswich Central Safer Neighbourhood Team’s PCSO Justin Berry said the patrols helped encourage people to seek support from accommodation providers.

PCSO Berry was one of the founders of the Help Our Homeless scheme, which launched in 2017 to highlight the support available to homeless people. It also encourages people to donate at various ‘Help Points’ around the town, as a means to support homeless people without giving money to beggars. PCSO Berry said the number of rough sleepers in Ipswich had “dramatically reduced” in the past year.

“This has been due to the good work being done by numerous agencies working in partnership with each other,” he added.

Ian Walters, of the Ipswich soup kitchen said the partnership had become such a success that other towns, such as Bury St Edmunds, had started to follow its example with volunteers and charitable organisations working together.

“People tend to think we’ve got a big problem with homelessness,” he added. “But what they’re seeing at the moment is people begging on the streets, and most of these people are not homeless.”

Visit www.helpourhomeless.co.uk for more information.

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