Rough sleeping rockets across Suffolk: “It’s a sign that a lot of people are struggling”
- Credit: Gregg Brown
The number of people sleeping rough on the streets of Suffolk has doubled in just one year, new figures have revealed.
An estimated 82 people across the county bedded down outside on any one night in 2016, compared to 41 the previous year.
The issue has worsened in all bar one of the county’s seven local authorities, with Ipswich seeing a 69% increase on 2015.
Claire Staddon, who runs the Ipswich branch of homelessness charity Emmaus, said the latest numbers were “disappointing”.
“It’s always a surprise because we hope it won’t be like that, but I think looking at where we are in the economic climate it’s not surprising,” she said. “It’s disappointing though, and I think it’s a sign that a lot of people are struggling.”
According to the Government statistics, 27 rough sleepers were counted in Ipswich in Autumn 2016, a rise from 16 the previous year.
This was higher than any other local authority in Suffolk.
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The deepening problem in Ipswich was no more visible than at the Waterfront over the Christmas and New Year period.
In one of town’s most rapidly developing areas, featuring university buildings, luxury apartments and busy restaurants, a community of homeless people set up a makeshift village between the hoardings and the river, near the unfinished block of flats dubbed the ‘winerack’.
Brad Geller, of nearby Pizza Express, used to walk by the camp on his way to work.
He said: “I think there’s a requirement for a better support network for the homeless, but I understand there are difficulties with financing it.”
Lucy Frost, of the Dance East cafe, said some customers bought food and hot drinks for the group.
Ipswich borough councillor Liz Harsant said the six or seven people who were sleeping by the Waterfront had been moved on.
She added: “There’s some wonderful charities around all trying to help but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s a lot of younger people sleeping rough, which is really quite disturbing.”
Demelza Penberth, manager of the Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership, operated from the Chapman Centre, said rough sleepers “gravitate” to Ipswich from other parts of Suffolk due to the wealth and quality of support services available in the county town.
She added: “The figures are a snapshot and if you ask us today or tomorrow those figures may go up or down, because that’s the nature of homelessness and rough sleeping.”
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said: “We have an emerging problem which we are working hard to deal with in Ipswich, which in part is driven by non-UK nationals who are homeless and don’t have money to return and we need to address measures to help them with that.
“The Government is aware of the wider need to prevent homelessness rather than try to deal with people when they are already in crisis.”
Mr Gummer said he supported MP Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill, which places duties on local authorities to intervene at earlier stages to prevent homelessness in their areas.
Julia Hanock is the business manager of charity Selig Suffolk, which runs the Ipswich Winter Night Shelter.
She said around 10 out of the 27 rough sleepers included in the 2016 count had this season used the shelter, based in town centre churches.
She said: “We have had more women in the shelter than we have had in the past, and, as well as the usual reasons for homelessness, the break down of relationships has been a factor for quite a few of our guests.”
A spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council said it had just successfully bid for an additional £330,000 of Government money to provide help for those living on the streets.
The authority spokesman also said the needs of many of the 27 rough sleepers had been met since the count.
In Forest Heath the number of rough sleepers rose from four in 2015 to six in 2016.
In Babergh it increased from two to seven and in Suffolk Coastal it went from four people to six.
The figures more than doubled in both St Edmundsbury (seven to 15) and Waveney (six to 20).
Mid Suffolk was the only area that saw an improvement, dropping from two rough sleepers in 2015 to one last year.
The information is collated by the Government based on counts or estimates carried out by local authorities between October 1 and November 30, 2016.
Councils can choose to conduct a count on a single night, or form an estimate based on intelligence from agencies in contact with rough sleepers in their area.