As I write these words on Sunday, thick snow is falling on Ipswich, writes Labour Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere.
At times like this our thoughts inevitably turn to people who are homeless.
On top of the provision the council has in place all year round, we also open up a number of extra beds for people who are sleeping rough when the temperature drops. These beds have been in place since Thursday.
I am often asked whether there is provision for people who have dogs and can confirm that the council’s emergency accommodation does have kennels.
We also have the fantastic work of the Ipswich Winter Night Shelter, run by volunteers from our churches, which will be open until March and other schemes such as the new bus shelter project.
So there should be plenty of beds available to ensure no one has to sleep out but, if you see someone you are concerned about, please report it at www.streetlink.org.uk.
Homelessness and roughsleeping isn’t just a problem in winter though. It is happening all year round, it is increasing and it is a nationwide problem.
Demand is growing due to a whole raft of Government cuts: cuts to benefits; an increasingly harsh benefits sanctions regime which can leave people without any money for months; cuts to drug treatment; cuts to mental health services; cuts to supported housing; cuts to domestic violence services; cuts to charities and voluntary groups.
Together, they have caused a surge which has overwhelmed the existing provision.
Ipswich Borough Council is planning to dramatically increase its spending on homelessness as a result. A fortnight ago we agreed to increase spending on homelessness prevention by over £300,000 a year.
Tomorrow we will agree to purchase a property to provide temporary accomodation for up to 40 more families and single people. The purchase, fit out and operating costs of this will come to well over £2million.
As you can imagine, when faced with Government cuts of £12million ourselves, finding the money for this is not easy.
But unless the Government addresses the root causes – its own policies – even this isn’t realistically going to end the problem of rough sleeping on Ipswich’s streets.