The number of people sleeping rough is at a five year high - so how big is Ipswich's homelessness problem?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 November 2016 | UPDATED: 07:58 05 December 2016
As homelessness figures continue to soar across the UK, Gemma Mitchell begins a series of features investigating the scale of the problem in Ipswich and what is being done to help.
The number of people sleeping rough in Ipswich has hit its highest level for at least five years.
Latest figures show there were 16 people regularly living on the streets, compared to just five in 2013.
And 19 vulnerable people with housing issues are believed to have died in the town in just 16 months.
That’s the scale of the problem facing local support organisations and charities in Ipswich – but there is a huge effort under way to tackle it.
Sue Raychaudri manages the Chapman Centre, a support and advice service for the town’s homeless and needy.
Many of these 19 deaths were down to mental health concerns, or drug and alcohol issues, Miss Raychaudri said, but changes to the benefits system have also pushed people in Ipswich into crisis.
“It’s deeply saddening for me to see that,” she added. “It’s a human being’s life we are talking about.
“With regards to the homeless situation, it is on the rise. The statistics prove that.”
In 2015 the number of people sleeping rough in Ipswich reached a five-year high.
According to Government statistics, there were 13 people sleeping on the town’s streets in 2010; seven in 2011; seven in 2012; and five in 2013.
The figure rose to eight in 2014 and then took a massive jump to 16 last year.
Nationally the problem has got worse year-on-year.
In 2010 there were 1,768 people sleeping rough in England; this increased to 2,181 in 2011; 2,309 in 2012; and 2,414 in 2013.
The following year the figure rose by 14% to 2,744, and then by another 30% last year to 3,569.
In a bid to curb the growing problem, more than 40 agencies came to together four years ago to form the Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership. The aim is to work side by side to rid the town of rough sleeping and to prevent vulnerable people from losing their homes.
At the heart of this partnership is the Chapman Centre, based in Black Horse Lane.
Miss Raychaudri said the hub was deeply needed. It sees around 45 visitors per day, some of whom come from as far afield as Lowestoft and Colchester to access help.
“The work we do here, the clients always tell us it is not only safe and supportive, but we are non-judgmental,” she added.
“We are one of a kind. There is no other charity or organisation that delivers this service.”
The Chapman Centre is run by the Ipswich Housing Action Group charity, which recently celebrated its 40th birthday.
It is fairly well supported by volunteers and donations – but Miss Raychaudri urged people to remember that homelessness was an all-year-round problem.
“We are inundated in the winter months, but I don’t need it,” she said. “I need it in June when people think there’s no homeless issue at all. In August I had the highest numbers in homelessness.”
The Chapman Centre provides a day advice service for support on housing, debts, welfare benefits and drug, alcohol and health issues. It puts on meaningful activities for its service users such as cooking workshops, games and crafts.
There is access to computers, shower facilities, phones, lunches, clothing and food parcels.
One day a week the NHS health outreach team puts on drop-in sessions for any medical worries. It has a street outreach co-ordinator who walks the town two mornings a week and checks on people who are sleeping rough. It also offers volunteer opportunities to prisoners from Hollesley Bay to help them reintegrate into the community.
But most importantly it works closely with the other agencies in the locality partnership, which includes Suffolk Constabulary and Ipswich Borough Council, along with numerous charities and community organisations, to find people the right help to turn their lives around.
Case study: Gary Starns
He spent months living on the streets with just a tent to sleep in and a bicycle to ride.
But today Gary Starns is able to make plans for his future, with a roof over his head and work experience behind him.
The 49-year-old was made homeless in October last year after he failed to get the right support for his mental health problems from services in a different county.
Mr Starns suffers from depression, anxiety and dissociative disorder.
“When I first got made homeless I had a part-time cleaning job,” Mr Starns said.
“But then I was homeless; I couldn’t go back to work. I had nowhere to clean my clothes or no where to clean myself.
“I was going no where and I had no hope of improvement.
“I had to go somewhere so I headed in this direction.”
Mr Starns arrived in Ipswich in December last year and was sleeping in a tent.
“The first couple of weeks I had nothing, I wasn’t getting any further forward,” he said.
After visiting the Salvation Army to register his interest for housing, Mr Starns was put in touch with the Chapman Centre, the Ipswich homelessness hub in Black Horse Lane.
There he was given specialist support, and was able to get medication and counselling for his mental health concerns after being assessed by the health outreach team.
“Until I got here and I found the Chapman Centre I wasn’t getting on well at all, I lost four stone,” he said.
“I was pushing my bike around with all my stuff on it and I lost so much weight that pushing it along was killing me.”
In May Mr Starns was taken on by Emmaus Ipswich, a charity that offers people who are homeless or under threat of being homeless volunteering opportunities to help them rebuild their lives.
Emmaus has a charity shop in Dales Road, which takes donated items and “up-cycles” them to improve their value.
Two days a week Mr Starns volunteers at the shop, helping with gardening, decoration and up-cycling.
“It’s got me out and given me a purpose,” he said. “Maybe some of the skills I pick up here will help me get a job in the future.”
Emmaus project manager Claire Staddon said: “Every volunteer that comes to us makes a massive difference to us.
“The value they bring to us is just as good as, hopefully, the value we bring to them.”
Two months ago Mr Starns secured temporary accommodation at a Salvation Army hostel in Ipswich.
Next year he hopes to find shop work, similar to what he is currently doing at Emmaus, and permanent housing.
Mr Starns said he had more help in Ipswich than he had ever had else where.
“This thing about mental health care being a postcode lottery isn’t a joke, it’s real,” he added.
“I grew up screwed up and basically my life in a nutshell was wandering from one car crash to another.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t do it any more.
“The depression was stopping me getting on with my life.
“There’s a lot more support here, it seems to be more determined to work.
“It seems better focused because the agencies do keep contact with each other and are talking to each other constantly.”
To read day two of our homelessness investigation, click here.