FEATURE: ‘It can happen to anyone’: The Leader gives an insight into the plight of the town’s homeless

John*, pictured with volunteers Dawn Blakey and Lesley Harrison-Wiseman. EMN-150801-093313001
John*, pictured with volunteers Dawn Blakey and Lesley Harrison-Wiseman. EMN-150801-093313001

“I never thought that I would end up homeless. If it can happen to me, then it can happen to anyone.”

These are the words of 37-year-old John*, originally from the north of the county, who has been homeless since the end of September last year and has found refuge in Louth, thanks to the compassionate support from a small but dedicated group of volunteers.

The issue of homelessness has become a hot topic in Louth in recent weeks following heated discussions on social media, in which it was claimed that East Lindsey District Council was not doing enough to help the homeless, and had failed to assist a vulnerable woman who was sleeping rough in the town centre.

The matter was further thrust into the spotlight after seemingly ‘anti-homeless’ signs were put up around the town, much to the disgust of those who witnessed them, as reported last week.

Local support groups, such as East Coast Homeless Outreach (ECHO) and Helping Disabled & Forces Live (HDFL), have attempted to highlight the matter of homelessness in Louth, but feel that the problem is either swept aside, or simply not recognised as a legitimate concern.

“The thing I see at the moment with the homeless is that it seems we’re pushed under the carpet everywhere”, said John.

“I think homelessness is a massive thing, and I think more and more people are still going to lose their houses.

“As much as this country is trying to tell you it’s on the up, it’s not on the up. People are still struggling.”

Many people still hold on to the stereotype that homelessness emerges exclusively as a result of broken, abusive homes or reckless self-destruction. But John’s road to homelessness tells a very different story.

“A few years ago, it was me, dad, mum, and my two brothers - it was all perfect, just like any other family”, explains John.

It was after John’s father died that problems started to develop, and John’s mother had a mental breakdown shortly afterwards.

In September, John was made redundant and reached the end of the contract on his flat. The combined effect was that John ended up homeless, living rough on the streets of Grimsby. It was at a soup kitchen that John met Louth volunteers Dawn Blakey and Lesley Harrison-Wiseman, who were visiting Grimsby to help the homeless, and they soon became friends. After John failed to turn up to the soup kitchen for a few weeks, Dawn and Lesley became increasingly concerned - and then they received the phone call at 11pm one night at the end of October.

“The call we got wasn’t good. We got in the car and raced over,” explained Dawn.

“I would have committed suicide that night”, John said.

“If I hadn’t met them on that night, around that time, I don’t think I’d be alive today.”

Shortly afterwards, John made his way to Louth, where he has been ‘sofa surfing’ and receiving valuable support from the Community Larder - but he says that he still encounters difficulty when getting support.

“I know you’ve got to put your name down to bid for accommodation, but young single men? You’ve no chance - and it’s young single men who are the most vulnerable”, said John.

“The first thing East Lindsey did was get in touch with North Lincolnshire Council, and they tried to shove me back to them.

“They said ‘you’re not from this area, you should be back in your own area’. Even though I’m from Lincolnshire, I’m English, I’ve paid into the system for 20 odd years - as a tax-payer I felt quite p****d off about that. I was alienated.

“The buck just gets passed, the buck just goes around in a big circle. You start here, you go round there, and you’re back to square one again.”

Paul Jackman, from East Coast Homeless Outreach (ECHO) agrees, and adds that he believes local homelessness is only going to get worse.

“Louth is a little area, and people become homeless and just disappear. If they try to move, the councils just move them back with no thought. It’s heartbreaking. Bigger towns have it worse, of course, but homelessness still exists in Louth - it’s just hidden. But we are raising awareness, and have opened a lot of people’s eyes.”

Paul added: “I believe that ELDC’s hands are tied. They can do more, but it’s not their fault; hopefully we will be able to work with them to improve the situation.”

East Lindsey District Council’s Homelessness Team Leader, Jason Oxby, told the Leader: “The Council has a legal duty to support people in certain circumstances and will always fulfil its obligation.

“The Housing Team deals with some of the most vulnerable people in society and much of our work goes on under the radar for very good reason. The Council has prevented over 500 people from becoming homeless 
in the past year alone.”

Mr Oxby added: “I think there is a misunderstanding in respect of the situation in Louth and the support available and we’re meeting with East Coast Homeless Outreach shortly to look at how we can complement one another’s work.

“From time to time homelessness does occur in Louth, as it does in every town, and when we can help we will.

“An important point to remember is that the law only allows Councils to help people in certain circumstances through Homelessness Legislation and this specifically includes people with a local connection and those who can’t return to an area due to domestic abuse.

“If someone, for example, from Grimsby came to Louth and requested our assistance, it would be our role to support them in going back to Grimsby for that assistance rather than it being provided by ELDC.”

Mr Oxby continued: “If anyone discovers someone is homeless they should immediately contact us on 01507 601111 during the day or outside normal office hours call 07766 776447.

“Advice and guidance on homelessness and the support available can be viewed on the Council’s website.”

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.