Why it’s often hard for rough sleepers in Ipswich to accept assistance

David Rhodes, who has been homeless since January.

David Rhodes, who has been homeless since January. - Credit: Archant

On day two of our investigation into homelessness in Ipswich, Gemma Mitchell speaks to those working to support the town’s rough sleepers.

Robert Wragg. assertive street outreach coordinator, and Gill Last, alcohol recovery officer from An

Robert Wragg. assertive street outreach coordinator, and Gill Last, alcohol recovery officer from Anglia Care Trust. - Credit: Archant

Two mornings a week Robert Wragg walks the streets of Ipswich and reaches out to people who are sleeping rough.

There are thought to be up to 15 people in the town who are long-term or “entrenched” homeless.

Mr Wragg said for people in this position, accepting help was a difficult step.

“We have got an entrenched group of rough sleepers and we are not sure where we go with them,” he added.

“The service user world is completely different to our world – what we class as normal behaviour to them is quite different, so we have to be a bit more understanding.

“There is a lot of help but it’s accepting it. Imagine someone entrenched in a lifestyle, had a lot of run-ins with agencies, asking for help. It is really difficult because there may have been times where they were turned away, rightly or wrongly.

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“A lot of the names I have known for a long, long time and it’s quite frightening when you see them.”

Mr Wragg is the assertive street outreach coordinator for the Ipswich Locality Homelessness Partnership.

He is based at the Chapman Centre and acts on reports received through Street Link, a service that allows the public to alert local authorities about homeless people in their area.

The Salvation Army Ipswich Soup Kitchen team, led by Ian Walters.

The Salvation Army Ipswich Soup Kitchen team, led by Ian Walters. - Credit: Archant

His role is to engage with rough sleepers, check they are OK, and urge them to visit the Chapman Centre for further support.

At this time of year he also offers people hats and gloves to keep warm.

But Mr Wragg said not everyone on the street was necessarily homeless.

Some people without a home will spend time living with friends or family, known as sofa surfing.

Yet others who do have a place of their own beg for money from passers-by, which is illegal.

Mr Wragg urged the public not to give money to beggars, but to report details about that person and their location to Street Link. “Some people give money and it’s very generous but sometimes it can stop people engaging with the services they may need to engage with,” Mr Wragg added.

“They can disappear if we are not aware of them. Some people will use the money for their addictions, which is the unfortunate bit.”

Many people living on the street suffer from mental health problems, sometimes combined with alcohol and drug misuse, which is known as dual diagnosis.

Mr Wragg said people with addictions were often unable to be considered for housing, or to access mental health care, until they addressed their substance abuse. These barriers can drive people further into drink or drugs, creating a vicious cycle.

“They use these things to mask the problems and run away from the problems,” Mr Wragg said.

Gill Last, alcohol recovery officer at Anglia Care Trust, routinely joins Mr Wragg on his morning outreach walk to engage with people living with addictions.

“A lot of people on the street have mental health problems and they are taking drink and drugs because that’s how they cope,” she said.

“There are all different stories, quite a lot of them have a lot of trauma in their past. It’s about giving them that support to get back into everyday life.”

Healthcare is available to homeless people via the Suffolk Marginalised and Vulnerable Adults NHS Outreach Service, which operates from a base in St Helen’s Street, Ipswich.

It runs weekly drop-in sessions and staff will also visit other homelessness services, such as the Ipswich Soup Kitchen, to speak to patients.

If you are concerned about anyone sleeping rough, report it to Street Link via www.streetlink.org.uk or 0300 500 0914.

Soup kitchen offers more than food for the homeless

For 24 years volunteers have been providing food and hot drinks for the homeless and needy in Ipswich.

And today the Ipswich Soup Kitchen is just as valued as it was when it was launched in 1992 by Central Churches Together.

The scheme sees different groups handing out free refreshments every night of the week in Elm Street, just outside

South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court.

Ian Walters, who has been involved with the project from the start, co-ordinates the soup kitchen.

He said: “Not everyone is homeless. We get a mixture of people.

“Some people have mental health issues, other people just haven’t got the money, or people are just lonely and want someone to talk to. People come down for the companionship.

“Our main motivation is just to give people their basic needs and keep them healthy so the other agencies can work with them. We all work together and that’s how we get things done.”

The soup kitchen is supported by around 150 volunteers, who supply and make sandwiches at home to give out to people for free.

Mr Walters said on average the soup kitchen was attended by around 40 people each night – but in the past he had seen 80 people go along.

A 62-year-old man has said he would be lost without the help of the Ipswich Soup Kitchen.

Robert Bradlaugh is not homeless, but some weeks he struggles to buy food after paying his bills.

“I’m nearly retired, I live on benefits and I don’t have enough money to buy everything I need,” Mr Bradlaugh said.

“I would be lost without it. Most of my money I put in the electric meter.

“I just come down when I’m short of food, but it’s a God-send to me.

“I think some people come down for a chat – a lot of people live on their own.

“Some people are sleeping rough but for many they are just short of money.”

Mr Bradlaugh, who relies on Job Seekers’ Allowance, has been using the soup kitchen for four years.

David, 68, experiencing life on the streets for the first time

A father-of-three is sleeping rough in church doorways after he fell behind on rent and lost his home.

David Rhodes, 68, has been living on the streets of Ipswich since January following the breakdown of a relationship.

He had moved into a new home, but was unable to keep up with rent payments and is now in debt.

Mr Rhodes was working a temporary job in the kitchen of a town-centre restaurant but was let go on Christmas Eve.

“You don’t realise until you are in this end of the social scale how desperate things are for people,” said Mr Rhodes, whose only income is his pension.

“I have had a well-paid job and now I am experiencing the other extreme.

“Many people are in the same position as me, pretty desperate for cash.”

Mr Rhodes said the worst thing about living on the street was the feeling of having no security, and nowhere safe to leave his belongings.

“I have had stuff stolen because, quite honestly, manners and morals go out the window out here,” he added.

“There are some genuine people but there are some real nasty ones and you just won’t put anything down when you are near them.”

Mr Rhodes said he was planning to get a Debt Relief Order, which allows people on very low incomes with few assets to clear a debt of £20,000 or less for a fee of £90.

He hopes this intervention will enable him to get back into accommodation.

To read day three of our homelessness investigation, click here.

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