New officer to help Bury St Edmunds’ rough sleepers

Rough sleeper prevention and support officer, Rhys Walters
Rough sleeper prevention and support officer, Rhys Walters
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A new council officer is helping to ease the plight the growing number of rough sleepers in Bury St Edmunds.

Rhys Walters has taken up a trial two-year position as rough sleeper prevention and support officer.

His appointment follows a joint bid for Government funding by St Edmundsbury Borough Council and Forest Heath District Council, together with Mid Suffolk and Babergh District Councils.

Mr Walters, who has experienced rough sleeping himself , is working with homeless people and support organisations throughout the region.

A significant proportion of his work, however, will be centred in Bury St Edmunds, which has seen the largest growth in the number of street homeless in recent years.

“Many rough sleepers possess some form of mental health and/or substance misuse issues,” said Mr Walters.

“A compassionate approach which recognises them as an individual is fundamental in encouraging these men and women to gain access to local agencies that can help address the barriers that exist to leading more independent and productive lives.”

The number of rough sleepers in St Edmundsbury has grown from three in 2012, to seven in 2015, to 15 in 2016.

Latest figures show however there are now 24 rough sleepers in Bury St Edmunds alone.

Mr Walters is working to establish their trust as well as working alongside organisations such as the Bury Drop In and Gatehouse centres.

According to the council, those living on the streets is ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ with homelessness extending to people living in unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation, or ‘sofa surfing’.

The council is appealing to landlords to help ease a housing shortage and also hoping to set up a winter night shelter later this year.

Landlords, individuals or businesses wishing to help should email reducing.homelessness@westsuffolk.gov.uk