Talks held on outreach idea to help West Norfolk’s homeless

GV of  the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk, King's Court Hq, Chapel Street King's Lynn
GV of the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk, King's Court Hq, Chapel Street King's Lynn
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A new outreach service could be established to help the growing numbers of homeless people in West Norfolk.

Discussions have taken placed between borough and county council officials in a bid to reduce what has been called an “unprecedented” increase in people sleeping rough.

And local officials say the borough needs its fair share of new government funding.

Last month, it was revealed that West Norfolk had the eighth highest proportion of homeless people per thousand in the country.

Earlier figures showed 42 people had been recorded as being homeless in the borough last November, compared with just five at the same point in the previous year.

During a presentation to West Norfolk Council’s environment and community panel on Wednesday, officer Duncan Hall said: “While a snapshot, it was consistent with a lot of the intelligence, experiences we’ve had over the last year or 18 months.

“We’ve become aware often on council land, Highways land, of an unprecedented trend of rough sleeping.”

The panel was shown pictures of sites around the borough where people had set up makeshift camps against the elements.

And Mr Hall said one person had even been recorded sleeping in a planter in Hunstanton.

He added: “We have a 10 year high in homelessness. That said, it’s not anything like as high as it was 10 years ago and previously.

“Many of us thought we’d cracked the problem and it’s desperately sad it’s going in the wrong direction.

“But there are things we can do about it.”

The meeting was told that 80 per cent of the people recorded as being homeless have mental health difficulties, while drugs and alcohol were also common factors.

Mr Hall said he had held talks with Norfolk County Council to look at whether a service that would allow specialists in those fields to work directly with homeless people could be set up.

He said: “Working with this group of people is a challenge. It’s not a challenge we’re set up to tackle at the moment. We don’t have an outreach service like many cities.

“What we’re faced with is decisions over the next few weeks and months about whether we commission a service like that.

“It’s work in progress but it’s not going to be easy and there’s no magic wand to be waved at the issue.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government has announced plans to allocate tens of millions of pounds more for councils to tackle homelessness, as part of its support for a current Private Members’ Bill.

If passed, it would require councils to provide up to eight weeks of support for people before they are threatened with homelessness, and a similar period of help to those who already are homeless.

And Mr Hall said: “We need to make sure we get in there and make our case because I don’t think we’re the sort of place where people naturally think it’s a problem.”

Chief executive Ray Harding also welcomed the funding, but said it was a “shame” councils had to bid for it.