Rough sleeping falls in Ipswich - but 'shocking' homelessness will only get worse, town warned
"Shocking" homelessness in Ipswich is only likely to get worse - despite a multi-pronged attack resulting in the lower levels of rough sleeping.
That is the stark warning from Jools Ramsey, the new chief executive of Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG) - the organisation which runs one of the town's leading homeless shelters, the Chapman Centre.
Ms Ramsey joined the organisation, which also runs a crucial money advice service, in October after working in local authorities and for charities such as Solace Women's Aid in London and Ormiston Families Trust.
Despite having worked for many years supporting people facing destitution and hardship, Ms Ramsey said the homelessness she has witnessed in Ipswich in her first weeks in the job is "shocking to me".
Having lived in Suffolk's county town for many years, Ms Ramsey said: "I'm really sad that in 2019, we still have people that have no safe place of their own.
"The shocking thing for me is the age groups of people who are homeless.
"There is one man who goes to the centre who's been rough sleeping for the last 20 years.
"It's shocking to me that, as a society, we have enabled that to happen."
Rough sleeping hit a high point in Ipswich a couple of years ago, when support workers counted approximately 30 people on the town's streets.
That was more than halved last year, with £60,000 of extra government funding to keep Ipswich Winter Night Shelter open for longer helping to curb the problem.
The Ipswich Locality Housing Partnership (ILHP) has also brought together groups tackling homelessness to ensure there is a consistent and coordinated approach across the town.
Ms Ramsey - who earlier in her career was a self-employed childminder for five years - said a recent headcount in Ipswich recorded seven rough sleepers, the lowest for a while.
But she said: "We know that's not a true reflection of how many people are actually homeless."
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Asked if the problem is likely to get worse, she said: "Yes.
"I think we're in what is about to become a perfect storm.
"We know that people might be homeless or 'sofa surfing'," where people stay with family or friends while not having their own place.
"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.
"These things build up over time. 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.
"That is the perfect storm we have created."
Despite the "challenging" circumstances she faces, Ms Ramsey said she is "really fortunate to come to an organisation that has a really firm foundation of what it does".
She takes over as IHAG chief executive from Halford Hewitt, who grew the organisation over 27 years in charge and was made an MBE for his work.
IHAG now helps 3,000 people a year with its various services, with Mr Hewitt saying he had to "fight every day" to bring about positive change.
"Halford has brought the organisation to a place where it knows what it can do and can see its own potential," Ms Ramsey said.
"My challenge is growing that. Preventing homelessness is key to us as well."
IHAG needs £1.1million a year to run its services.
It has traditionally raised most of the funds by successfully applying for various grants, with just £10,000 coming from supporters.
However with the government cutting the amount of money it gives to councils, Ms Ramsey is keen to raise more from members of the public.
For more information about IHAG or to donate towards its services, visit its website.