‘Deeply concerned’: Fears at stigma against homeless people in Ipswich
Online comments about rough sleepers in Ipswich have left a leading campaigner “deeply concerned” over the stigma of being homeless.
Jools Ramsey has warned that there could be a rise in the number of homeless people due to a "perfect storm" of cuts to public services and difficulties in the housing market.
But the comments by the new chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG), which runs the town's Chapman Centre, were met with criticism for those who find themselves out on the streets.
Ms Ramsey responded by saying such views should be challenged, as "any family can be struck by a transformation or change in circumstances that can literally turn their lives around in a very short space of time".
She said: "I'm deeply concerned that the stigma of being homeless is further compounded by assumptions which are made about people who become homeless.
"The facts are quite simple. People do not choose to be homeless. People who are homeless find it difficult to ask for help.
"People who are affected by homelessness need to access services at a place where they feel safe. People who have insecure immigration status are not able to claim any form of benefits in the UK."
Ms Ramsey urged others to show compassion to those people and understand that anyone could easily find themselves in a similar situation.
"We still have this huge stereotypical view of what homelessness is," she said.
"That's one of the things we still need to address.
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"We need to be able to do away with the myths."
She said many people could find themselves suddenly on the street by losing a job or a breakdown in a family relationship which sees them leave home.
Even those who do find themselves homeless can find it hard to seek support, because of the difficulty of admitting to themselves that they need help.
It can be particularly difficult for some, as many support services might ask people for details about their backgrounds and how they ended up destitute - something many might find hard to discuss.
"No-one chooses to be unsafe," she said.
Ms Ramsey took over as chief executive of IHAG, which also runs a money advice service, in October - succeeding Halford Hewitt, who had run the organisation for 27 years.
She said the homelessness she had seen during her first weeks in the job was "shocking to me" - and warned that it may be about to get worse.
"We know that people might be homeless or 'sofa surfing'," she said.
"There have been severe cuts to social care and mental health services. It is obviously difficult in the housing market. It is really difficult to get in and stay in. Young people haven't been able to access preventive mental health services.
"The perfect storm of all these cuts means we build up into a situation where it means if young people do experience poor mental health, are kicked out by their parents, lose a job or have a relationship breakdown, it is much easier to become homeless."
For more information about IHAG or to donate towards its services, visit the IHAG website.