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Norwich does it again

Reading this title, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re about to read a piece about football; you’re not! My understanding of the game can at best be described as rudimentary and any attempt to write about football would risk significant reputational damage to St Martins.

No, this piece is about the number of people sleeping rough in Norwich and how for the third year in a row, against all odds, the number of people sleeping rough in the annual street count on the streets of Norwich has decreased. In fact using the annual street count data if we look back to 2016 the number of people on the streets of Norwich has decreased by 85% from 34 to 5. Given all the economic challenges that we currently face this achievement can only be described as remarkable, St Martins is within touching distance of our vision of ensuring that no one sleeps rough on our streets.

So, how is this possible when nationally we’ve seen a 27% increase of people sleeping rough and the figures in the East of England have risen by 18%? When the cost of living is high and more and more people are losing their accommodation across the UK?

Like most important questions there is more than one answer, contributory factors and critical success indicators coming together to make up more than the sum of their parts.

Can we end rough sleeping?

This is something that every government aspires to do; the number of people sleeping rough is a political hot potato. My response is that to end rough sleeping we need three things 1) sufficient funding, 2) political will and 3) enough social housing. Like a three-legged stool these three components need to be offered in equal measure to deliver a solid base and a lasting result.

Applying these three critical success factors to Norwich we know that funds are in short supply, like most councils Norwich City Council have difficult budget decisions to make but I know that supporting people who sleep rough or people who are homeless is never at the bottom of the list when funding decisions are being made. There is undoubtedly the political will in Norwich to end rough sleeping. We know that there isn’t enough social housing but again due to difficult decisions made back in the 80’s around ‘Right to Buy’ we know Norwich does better than most local councils in terms of the provision of housing.

Turning to local businesses, faith groups and local people here in Norwich. I know how far people go to support the work of St Martins. Our December street collection raised £36,688 which is truly amazing and we’re grateful to local businesses for releasing their team members to collect, to individuals who gave freely of their time to stand out in the cold and rain to collect and local people who made donations. Every week I’m humbled when I sign thank you letters for donations made by people who support St Martins. We couldn’t do the work we do without this support.

At St Martins we have a team of dedicated, passionate and committed Trustees who lead the charity. Decisions are made for the long term not just the here and now. We have almost 200 incredible team members who genuinely care about the people who use our services; they come to work to make a difference. Without the specialist support provided and access to supported living environments there would undoubtedly be more people sleeping rough in Norwich. St Martins provides more than a home for the homeless.

It is for all these reasons that once again Norwich bucked the national trend when the annual street count data for England was released this week.

It is for these reasons that St Martins can say with confidence that although people sleep rough for many reasons, rough sleeping on the streets of Norwich is brief, rare and mostly non recurring.

However, turning back to football (briefly)…..this is one for the team – for Norwich, local businesses, faith groups, local people and St Martins. We’re all in this together and I’m truly grateful for all the support St Martins receives and the special place it holds in the hearts of the people of Norwich.

Together we save lives, provide specialist support and help people to lead the lives they want to lead. Rough sleeping is never a life ambition or a lifestyle choice.

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