NORWICH HOMELESSNESS: NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR CHRISTMAS

Festive happiness in St Andrews Hall, Norwich at the Open Christmas. Photo: Steve Adams

By James Anthony

As another Christmas passes us by, society suddenly remembers about the people living their lives on the streets. The cold weather and family focus of this time of year always seems to bring about fresh discussion, reports, and news concerning the issues around homelessness. Thankfully, much of the talk on the subject – especially on social media – is rather positive. This year I’ve seen a considerable number of friends and colleagues on Twitter and Facebook talking about admirable projects that provide food, care and company to those without a home during the Christmas period.

It pleases me to say that Norwich as a city is very committed to charity work at Christmas time. Homeless charities often hold extra appeals for donations over the period and many places offer extra food and accommodation where possible. Perhaps the most successful event I’ve encountered is Norwich Open Christmas, which in 2016 celebrated 25 years of serving hot food and drink and providing entertainment to those who are without shelter or company on the 25th. They also give out clothes and food parcels to those who need them, ensuring that people are able to benefit from this generosity long after the day itself. This longer-term focus is key. To ensure homelessness isn’t a problem for life, we all have to accept that it isn’t just a problem for Christmas. Public perception needs to be focused on rough sleepers all year round.

There is unfortunately no great pressure from the public to ensure councils work hard to help the homeless, as it is not seen as a popular issue politically. Despite the best efforts of volunteers, the poor quality of life for those unable to find permanent accommodation will continue, unless there is the political appetite for something to be done about it.

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Empathy Action Time Norwich provide hot food to the city’s homeless

According to City Council Leader Alan Waters, rough sleeping in Norwich is at record levels – with roughly ninety people sleeping on the streets across the city according to recent figures. Voters across Norwich and Norfolk need to make it clear to our councils that homelessness is an issue we feel strongly about, and won’t forget about with the turn of the year.

Making homelessness a big political issue is of great importance if we are to encourage local councils to make changes. Norfolk County Council is unfortunately considering cutting their housing-related support budget, which would remove many of the services available to homeless people in the county. Norwich City Council have taken steps to pick up this slack, promising to draw up a new rough sleeping and supported housing strategy to prevent increasing numbers of people becoming homeless and break the cycle of rough sleeping. As voters, we need to hold the councils to account, putting pressure on the County Council to reconsider their budget changes, and make sure that the City Council’s plans are followed through.

we need to make it clear to our councils that homelessness is an issue we feel strongly about, and won’t forget about with the turn of the year

Efforts from the City Council to improve the lives of those living on the streets of Norwich is always welcome, and charity work is equally vital, clearly making a huge difference to those without a home, especially at Christmas. However, there is another path to solving the problem – we must all keep talking about it and make it a prominent issue. This is something we must all do all year round, letting Norfolk’s political parties know that we all care about those without permanent accommodation. Writing about it and sharing social media posts are an important part of this, but talking to people face to face about it and even discussing it with your local councillor is even more powerful.

With both local councils hitting the headlines for homelessness related stories and the increased awareness of the issue over the festive period, it’s the perfect time to make sure voter interest in this problem is sustained. Only then will we see sufficient responses from our councils, making certain that homelessness for people in our city doesn’t have to be for life.

Featured Image: Norwich Open Christmas 2013 via letstalk24.co.uk

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