Homeless charity warns surge in rough sleepers this winter could be just 'tip of the iceberg'

  • In the first of two special reports, ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward joined outreach workers for their early morning street count

A homeless charity has warned that the surge of people being forced on to the streets this winter could just be "the tip of the iceberg", as the cost of living crisis continues to bite.

Dr Jan Sheldon, the chief executive of Norwich-based St Martins Housing Trust, told ITV News the charity had already started to see an increase in the number of rough sleepers in the city.

She added that soaring energy bills and rising rents could force more people into poverty over the coming months.

As well as a rise in rough sleepers, Dr Sheldon said that she expected there to be an increase in the numbers of so-called "hidden homeless" - those who sofa-surf or only have temporary accommodation.

"The need for our service is actually growing," she told ITV News Anglia.

"It shouldn't be. We shouldn't exist in 2022 - no homeless organisation should be needed, but actually we're beginning to see the numbers on the streets starting to increase and we know that we're probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg."

St Martins' Chief Executive, Dr Jan Sheldon. Credit: ITV News Anglia

It comes as fellow charity Shelter revealed on Thursday that its emergency helpline received almost 95,000 calls between August and October, which works out to around 1,000 calls a day.

The charity added that 78% of those callers were already homeless or at risk of homelessness, while 70% said that the rising cost of living was making their housing situation worse.

The most recent homelessness stats from Shelter revealed that nearly 250,000 people were either classed as homeless or were living in temporary accommodation on any given night in 2021.

In the East of England, an average of 266 people slept rough on any given night that year, with the rate of homelessness in Luton being one of the worst outside London at 1 in 66 people. In Milton Keynes, the rate was 1 in 94.

ITV News Anglia filmed with the Pathways Team in Norwich. Credit: ITV News Anglia

It means the work of outreach workers, such as the Pathways team in Norwich, has never been more vital.

Staff regularly carry out early morning street counts, which not only enables them to monitor the number of rough sleepers, but also allows them to offer advice and support to those in need.

Among the team are Stephen Stigwood and Emily Randall who are fearful of what the winter months could have in store.

"Whether it's going to be a trickle, whether it's going to be like a storm, nobody knows, but certainly we're starting to see the profile of people on the street start to change," Mr Stigwood said.

Miss Randall added: "There are people who are inadequately housed who might have been sort of holding on, who are just going to fall over the edge at the moment, I think."

Outreach workers Emily Randall and Stephen Stigwood. Credit: ITV News Anglia

To make matters worse, some charities themselves have warned that they are under threat due to people having less spare change to make donations, as well as rising energy bills of their own.

At St Martins, the charity has just celebrated its 50th birthday, but this winter could mark one of the toughest periods in its history.

The charity runs a 30-bed hostel in the city centre and supports over 300 people at any one time, but the coming months and years could represent a huge challenge of the like they have never seen before.

"We're always trying to prepare for what might happen, but I do believe that we won't be able to provide the level of support that's going to be needed over the next one, two, three years," said Dr Sheldon.

"Our vision is that nobody needs to sleep rough on the streets of Norwich, and that we hold very dear to us, but we will struggle to achieve that vision over the next few years because we will see more people coming on to the streets. More people will need our support."

The government has said it is committed to ending rough sleeping by the time the next general election comes around, and recently announced £500m of funding over the next three years for its Rough Sleeping Initiative.

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