‘We can’t force rough sleepers to engage with us’ – Tents pitch up at Old Cattle Market bus station, Ipswich
- Credit: Archant
Rough sleepers are living in tents at the Old Cattle Market bus station in Ipswich town centre. Roger Fern has given a wide-ranging interview on the issue of homelessness.
Two tents have pitched up behind one of the bus shelters at the Ipswich town centre bus station.
Roger Fern, trustee of the Chapman Centre, a day centre for homeless people run by the Ipswich Housing Action Group (IHAG), said three to five rough sleepers are currently living in the tents, including one Ipswich person who has been homeless for 10 years and has “highs and lows – and the lows are getting worse”.
The number of rough sleepers in Ipswich reached 27 last year – up from five in 2013/14, the latest figures show.
Mr Fern, in a wide-ranging interview, said: “There are 27 people sleeping rough in Ipswich, the latest data shows. We know who they all are and the frustrating thing, and the Old Cattle Market is a classic example, is that there is a number who are very reluctant to engage with anybody.
“Ironically, where they are sleeping in their tents, they are about 100 yards from Cavendish Lodge (emergency accommodation for homeless people in Turret Lane, understood to not be full).
“At the Chapman Centre, we have an excellent outreach officer working with these people. But you can’t force these people to engage.”
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He added: “What makes it worse is, that despite the best of intentions, people give them food and clothes and tents and bedding, and then wonder why it is that they won’t engage, because sadly people, despite their best intentions, are actually undermining what we are trying to do at the Chapman Centre and elsewhere.”
Asked if people should therefore ignore pleadings from rough sleepers, he said: “No, please don’t ignore them – they are human beings. They are somebody’s son or daughter. But what we keep saying is that there are three things you can do: if you have got spare cash, rather than give it to someone who is begging (and there are people who are begging who aren’t beggars), why not give it to one of the organisations who are really helping to get these people back in to some sort of independence.
“If you have got spare time, why not come and help somewhere like the Chapman Centre, where we have got all sorts of activities for service users: paintings, reading, and jigsaw puzzles.
“Thirdly, if you have got someone who clearly is sleeping rough and doesn’t have anywhere to go and you are concerned about them, ring the StreetLink reporting line on 0300 500 0914. It is central agency, a semi-detached part of central government, which passes on the information back to Ipswich, and then an outreach officer is alerted, who goes out to meet them.”
Asked if these so-called ‘tent villages’, such as the one at the Old Cattle Market bus station, might increase around Ipswich, he said: “I’m rather afraid they might, yes.
“Ipswich has got a good reputation for the kind of help and support we give these people, which is why places like Colchester and Bury St Edmunds and various others encourage some of their homeless people to come to Ipswich, because we have got a suite of facilities and provision that helps them.
“It is a bit irritating. I happen to be a borough councillor and I think it is quite reasonable for Ipswich Borough Council to say to Colchester Borough Council ‘hang on a minute, you ought to be looking after these people yourself’.
“It’s the austerity business again. We are all strapped for cash and some difficult decision have to be made about what priorities are in place.”
He added: “There are two big issues. One is a lack of properly supported housing. We have got some: Cavendish Lodge, the IHAG hostel, and another hostel, but there are not enough of them.
“The other thing we are very short of is support for people with mental ill health. I know several rough sleepers and I do not know one of them who would choose to do what they were doing. They would much rather be settled in accommodation.”
Asked if homelessness could get worse, he said the 27 figure of rough sleepers in Ipswich could rise, particularly with the introduction of Universal Credit next year.
He said: “The main reason why people are now sleeping rough is family break-up, unemployment, people get themselves into debt, particularly with rent if they are in private rented accommodation, and private landlords can’t afford to have people who run up big debts, and so they tend to evict them much more quickly than like the borough council or a housing association.
“The two major issues are to do with addictive behaviour, particularly drink and drugs, and mental ill health.”
In June, Susie Mills, manager of Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership (ILHP), said other local authorities were sending homeless people to Ipswich “with nowhere to go when they get here”.