Town cuts rough sleeping amid homelessness crisis

Trevor at the Bury Drop-In Centre. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Homelessness is on the rise across the East but one town in Suffolk has been able to cut the number of people sleeping rough on its streets.

In Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk there are now around 20 people sleeping rough in the town, down by five since September and across West Suffolk numbers have fallen from 36 to 22.

A number of charity-run projects have been tackling the problem and the council has triggered their emergency plans to put homeless people into temporary accommodation over winter.

According to figures from the charity Crisis, Britain is facing record levels of homelessness with more than 170,000 families at risk.

  • Click below for Tanya Mercer's report

Trevor has been homeless since his relationship broke down 18 months ago.

"It's a nightmare to be honest," he said. "You don't know if you're coming or going.

"One night I could be in a doorway, it does run you down, it seems like you've got a 24 seven flu. One day you get rid of it, next day it's back. It's ongoing it's horrible, especially this time of year."

Trevor said it had been difficult to rebuild his life and get the chances he needs to get off the streets, but he's being helped by a drop-in centre in Bury St Edmunds.

Trevor at the Bury Drop-In Centre. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The centre's also helping Julian who has been rough sleeping and in-and-out of hostels for 10 years.

Julian said: "It's been a life of ups and downs really. One minute I think I'm just getting somewhere and then something comes along and smacks you in the gob and you're back down again.

"That's why I like places like this at the moment. It's somewhere to come, have a cup of tea, chat with similar minded people and they've got agencies here that help first steps on to finding work and a new place."

Julian has been in and out of hospitals for 10 years. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The drop-in centre is run by volunteers. Anyone rough-sleeping can come for food, help and advice.

Various agencies such as the community dentist, hairdressers, Citizens Advice and health and social workers are also there to help people get off and stay off the streets.

Recently they have launched a campaign asking people to donate to the centre rather than give money directly to those on the streets.

David Bonnett, from Bury Drop-In Centre, said: "We're trying to encourage people not to give to people on the streets as that doesn't necessarily help them.

"It might buy them a cup of coffee and a sandwich that day, it might not, they might use the money for something else.

"It is better to give it to us because we can give them access to all the help they need.

"We can give them the clothes they need, we can give them food and the cup of coffee, so we can give greater added value."

The local council has employed a team of support workers with expertise in mental health and addiction support to help rough sleepers.

They have triggered their Severe Weather Emergency Protocols giving them access and finances to put people into B&Bs and temporary accommodation during the cold weather.

Hannah Lawson, Rough Sleepers Outreach Coordinator, said: "We're part of a new initiative under central Government for rough sleeping.

"Our job is to go out into the community, into the rural areas, locate rough sleepers and try and engage with them a little bit to the point where they might feel able, feel comfortable to come into temporary and emergency accommodation.

"So once we've successfully done that we then try and look at resettlement work and move people on into their own tenancies eventually, if and when they feel supported enough to do so."

And it is starting to work. There are now around 20 people sleeping rough in the town - down by 5 since September, and across West Suffolk the council says it has cut numbers from 36 to 22 since September.

But there is still a long way to go to help tackle the reasons people end up on the streets and to ensure they have the support they need to get them back into a permanent home.