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‘Wake up – homelessness is an extremely serious issue here’ - says army veteran sleeping rough in Wisbech

A homeless veteran who sleeps in the doorway of Burger King in Wisbech Horsefair is calling for more help for people like him.

Steven Burrell a homeless veteran. (6793262)
Steven Burrell a homeless veteran. (6793262)

Steve Burrell, 57, who served in Northern Ireland with the army in the 1980s, was sofa surfing for nearly a decade following the break-up of his marriage.

But since then has been living on the streets for the past two years. Unlike many of his fellow rough sleepers, Steve did not turn up at the Grub Hub on Tuesday evening because “I don’t believe in charity, I have not got much, but I do I have my pride”.

However, he praised the 50 Backpacks charity for providing him with a sleeping bag and mat, but he feels the authorities need to do more as it is impossible to get a home while on benefits.

Steven Burrell a homeless veteran. (6793258)
Steven Burrell a homeless veteran. (6793258)

Steve says he is unable to work through ill health as he suffers from sciatica, asthma, high blood pressure, arthritis and back problems.

He said: “I’m not sure why private landlords are reluctant to take people on benefits because the council pays the rent, so they are guaranteed their money. But it is impossible to find somewhere and then, if you can find somewhere, you need such a huge deposit.

“The council needs to wake up and realise that homelessness is a serious issue here. There are about 50 people living on the streets in Wisbech. Someone in government needs to get this sorted.”

However, a spokesman for Fenland District Council, which puts the official homeless figure for the whole district at 23 following a count in November, said they have a raft of measures in place.

Steven Burrell a homeless veteran. (6793259)
Steven Burrell a homeless veteran. (6793259)

She said: “Rough sleeping is a major problem in towns and cities across the UK. The number of people sleeping rough has increased over the past few years, including in Fenland, where many of those sleeping rough are migrant workers who are no longer working and have lost accommodation.

“The council’s Housing Options Service is open to everyone and can provide help to all rough sleepers and those who are likely to find themselves homeless within 56 days. It is committed to reducing the numbers of rough sleepers by providing valuable services, and will continue to actively work with partner agencies to tackle the root causes and prevent it from happening in the first place.”

The council currently has a migrant outreach service which provides dedicated support to those sleeping rough.

Steven Burrell a homeless veteran. (6793260)
Steven Burrell a homeless veteran. (6793260)

The spokesman added: “The night shelter at the Ferry Project has also been extended to 18 spaces. The Ferry Project offers a vital service to single homeless people in Fenland, both in Octavia View and the night shelter and also through the council’s Severe Weather Emergency Provision (SWEP), which provides emergency shelter to people sleeping rough during periods of freezing night-time temperatures.

“Due to a successful funding bid, the SWEP has been in place every night since November 1, 2018, rather than only when the temperature drops below -1C for three consecutive nights.

“Homeless individuals can present themselves to the night shelter to access services. There is no charge, while Housing Benefit (if eligible) can be claimed to stay at Octavia View.

“The council also has a deposit scheme to help people access accommodation including private-rented houses and flats, and caravans.”

She said the council has paid for 301 bed spaces at the night shelter since November under SWEP at a cost of £31 per person per night, and the shelter is full every night.

And in the last 12 months, FDC has helped 86 households with deposits, at a cost of £53,600, with the average cost for each household of £623.25.

The spokesman concluded: “Tackling homelessness remains an extremely complex issue, with no single solution. Although our aim is to help every rough sleeper in Fenland, we also have to accept that not everybody wishes to be helped.”

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