Read the stories of five rough sleepers who used this season’s Ipswich Winter Night Shelter

Guests at the Ipswich Winter Night Shelter. (L-R) Francis Cullum, a man who did not want to be named

Guests at the Ipswich Winter Night Shelter. (L-R) Francis Cullum, a man who did not want to be named, John Moir and David Rhodes. Picture: Gemma Mitchell - Credit: Gemma Mitchell

A father-of-four who became homeless last year after his relationship ended has said the Ipswich Winter Night Shelter saved his life.

A camp set-up by a group of rough sleepers at Ipswich Waterfront at the start of this year. Picture:

A camp set-up by a group of rough sleepers at Ipswich Waterfront at the start of this year. Picture: Gregg Brown - Credit: Gregg Brown

Nicholas Elliston, 45, spent three months sleeping rough in the town before he was taken in at the seasonal charity scheme in December.

Within a few weeks, Mr Elliston was found a place in a shared house and he is now waiting to move into his own flat.

He said: “I was really struggling, I had never lived on the streets before.

“I used to have a high paid job, I used to work for the council in Lincoln and had a family life.

“If it wasn’t for the night shelter taking me in I think I would have been drug-taking.

“The winter night shelter really saved me.”

A man sleeps rough on the Princes Street bridge near Ipswich train station. Picture: Archant

A man sleeps rough on the Princes Street bridge near Ipswich train station. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Most Read

Born and bred in Ipswich, Mr Elliston lived in Lincoln for 10 years with his partner and two of his children.

He returned to the town after the relationship fell apart and was staying with his mother until late September 2016 when he started rough sleeping.

“For someone who has never lived on the streets it was quite intimidating,” Mr Elliston said.

“I stayed with a few people on the streets who I know so it was safety in numbers but Friday and Saturday nights were the worst when people were coming out of clubs, they see you are homeless and you get the odd joke.”

Mr Elliston said there were many more homeless people in Ipswich than the official figures suggested, as some slept out of sight and did not have contact with authorities.

The Ipswich Winter Night Shelter (IWNS) is run by charity Selig Suffolk and supported by donations and volunteers.

Francis Cullum, left, was made homeless after he came out of prison. Picture: Gemma Mitchell

Francis Cullum, left, was made homeless after he came out of prison. Picture: Gemma Mitchell - Credit: Gemma Mitchell

It offers up to 12 people a bed and hot food within a different town centre church every night of the week throughout the coldest months of the year.

The project, which is in its sixth season, will close tomorrow and start again in December.

This year it has managed to get 13 guests into fixed accommodation so far - a record-breaking and “unprecedented” number.

Another success story is that of 34-year-old Karen Walsh, who was given a tenancy at a bedsit within six weeks of staying at IWNS.

Ms Walsh became homeless 10 months ago after she fell behind on rent payments and her life “spiralled out of control”.

As a woman, Ms Walsh said living outside was particularly difficult.

Marlene Scrivener (second left) with volunteers including Steve Willson (far right) at the Ipswich W

Marlene Scrivener (second left) with volunteers including Steve Willson (far right) at the Ipswich Winter Night Shelter at Burlington Church. Picture: Gemma Mitchell - Credit: Gemma Mitchell

“I was attacked once on the streets by a man,” she said.

“A lot of people assume you are prostituting yourself and are shocked to discover you are not.”

It was the first time Ms Walsh had experienced life on the streets, and she said she hoped it would be her last.

When asked where she would be right now without the night shelter, Ms Walsh said. “I would still be in the same rut I was in 10 months ago.

“This place helped me start engaging with services. The fear of losing the bed was enough to make me engage.

“They are something positive in your life.”

John Moir wants to give talks to teenagers about staying out of trouble. Picture: Gemma Mitchell

John Moir wants to give talks to teenagers about staying out of trouble. Picture: Gemma Mitchell - Credit: Archant

Francis Cullum came to IWNS in February and as a result he is now in an accommodation with the Salvation Army in Ipswich.

The 32-year-old ended up on the streets after he left prison and found himself with no-where else to go.

He said: “It’s sad that when I was in prison I was thinking I’m better off in there. It’s somewhere to eat and sleep. It was shocking that I felt like that.

“I have now been given a chance. If I stick at it I will be able to get a flat, so it’s a case of doing what I’m supposed to do and keeping out of trouble.”

Mr Cullum said he had noticed an increase in the number of homeless people in Ipswich, adding: “A lot more than I have known.”

David Rhodes will be 69 in May and has been homeless since January 2016 after he accumulated large debts and was unable to pay rent.

David Rhodes has been sleeping in church doorways since he became homeless in January 2016. Picture:

David Rhodes has been sleeping in church doorways since he became homeless in January 2016. Picture: Gemma Mitchell - Credit: Archant

The father-of-three was sleeping in church doorways in Ipswich before signing up for the winter night shelter, and he is yet to find long-term accommodation.

“The cold was getting to me,” he said. “I was going down hill pretty rapidly.

“I have been so used to having money all my life. I have had well-paid jobs.

“I’m in limbo. It’s just killing time between events and having things organised for you and eating the food you are given.

“I was always self-reliant in the past, so it’s been hard.”

John Moir, 50, was first turned away from IWNS due his criminal record dating back to when he was a teenager.

(L-R) Julia Hancock, Selig business manager, and Marlene Scrivener, Selig support worker. Picture: G

(L-R) Julia Hancock, Selig business manager, and Marlene Scrivener, Selig support worker. Picture: Gemma Mitchell - Credit: Archant

However, after a second interview Mr Moir was given a chance as he proved he is now on the straight and narrow.

“I’m starting to move forward with my life,” he said. “I’ve stayed out of trouble for three years and I don’t want to get back into trouble.”

Mr Moir has been homeless for one year, and will often bed down in Christchurch Park and the skate park near Stoke Bridge.

As he has only been with the night shelter for two weeks, organisers are still working to get him into permanent housing.

“I’ve never had my own front door key – that’s what I want,” he said.

In the future Mr Moir wants to give talks to teenagers about the impact of crime, especially gangs and knives – “because I have been down that road,” he said.

The Ipswich Winter Night Shelter has space for up to 12 people per night

The Ipswich Winter Night Shelter has space for up to 12 people per night - Credit: Selig Suffolk

This year 34 individuals have used IWNS, their stays ranging from just one or two nights to 95 nights.

It has seen one guest beginning an application for rehab, another getting treatment for an ongoing health issue and a man reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy and entire Harry Potter series during his stay.

Marlene Scrivener, a support worker at Selig Suffolk who leads the IWNS alongside Julia Hancock, said: “It’s really warming to hear something beneficial has happened for people who are going through difficult times for some reason, and the volunteers make this project what it is.”

Mrs Scrivener said this year organisers had noticed a rise in the number of guests who had been impacted by A Class drug use.

Despite its proven success, Mrs Scrivener said the church-based shelter could not work all year round.

“Calling on 200 volunteers for three months is one thing, calling on them forever is something else,” she said.

“Much of the motivation of a seasonal shelter is guests, agencies and volunteers don’t want anyone out in the cold, so that gives it a drive and energy.”

Steve Willson has volunteered with IWNS for five years after getting involved through his church and he said this term was particularly special.

“It’s been really amazing to see how many people have been housed,” he added.

“Some people have made a conscious decision to try and address their addiction, it’s quite amazing to see that change and they seem more content and happy. They still have struggles, there’s a lot of really needy people.

“I have seen more people impacted by dependency to drugs, this year more so than other years. It’s good to see people being able to get out of that and break the habit.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter