Tombstone for a bed

IT is among the most miserable of existences.So desperate is the plight of a number of homeless people in Ipswich that they have taken to sleeping in a graveyard.

Tom Potter

AN IPSWICH graveyard has started to resemble a campsite after a number of homeless people moved in - some using tombstones as beds.

It may not look very inviting but the graveyard has become a resting place of a different kind for a series of men over the past year.

Today it is the meagre home of two men who say they have nowhere else to go.

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One is Gary Cannell, a 46-year-old father-of-two while the other is a Lithuanian immigrant.

Mr Cannell has been homeless for five years, sleeping on the streets, in public toilets and now in a tent between gravestones.

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He said was released from prison three weeks ago after serving a short sentence for causing actual bodily harm and has found it a struggle to adapt.

He said: “I see my sons regularly but have nowhere to take them. I want to meet them and take them to my home, not to a tent.

“I have just got my forklift licence but finding work is difficult when you have a criminal record and don't have an address.

“I don't like having to go from room to room and I don't like living here but I feel like it's my only choice.”

Rather than being turfed out and forced to live rough, Mr Cannell has been allowed by the church to stay while he tries to find more permanent accommodation.

Ipswich Borough Council and other agencies have worked with the men to try to find them another home but so far no agreement has been reached.

The outreach team has provided items including tents, sleeping bags and has worked with the Families in Need (FIND) charity to provide food, but a permanent solution is yet to be found.

The homeless people have faced incidents of abuse. Four tents have been replaced due to persistent damage by people taking exception to their presence in the graveyard.

Adrian Kirkby, the county harm reduction manager with Suffolk Community Healthcare, said that in his experience homeless people can come from all walks of life.

He said: “Circumstances that can affect any of us, such as divorce, debt, redundancy, domestic abuse, addiction and mental and physical health issues can, and in our experience do, contribute to homelessness.”

Donations from HOP's partners, the Ipswich Homeless Fund, and food parcels from the public have meant the team are able to provide for the few who need it most.

Kathy Cubitt, a nurse practitioner and team leader at HOP, said that in some cases the most vulnerable people can be migrant workers with little alternative.

She said: “Some of these people have exhausted any other avenues and have ended up with no other option. It's not a solution, just a very temporary basic help intervention.

“These people are human beings and they deserve a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs no matter how they got there.”

- Have you battled homelessness and rebuilt your life? Are you homeless? What do you think of this situation? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

SUFFOLK'S Health Outreach Project works with those who find themselves homeless in Suffolk in a wide variety of ways, including finding stable accommodation, routes into training and employment, access to full physical and mental health care facilities and ongoing support.

Anyone who is homeless and needs HOP services can leave a message on 01473 341763 and a HOP worker will contact you.

Wilbury House on Norwich Road provides two emergency direct access beds every night, available on a first come first served basis, but these cannot be used by an individual more than once a fortnight.

In April this year a further six beds became available at Wilbury House, as part of an extended support scheme, in order to help people address the causes of homelessness. Since then there have been less instances of people having to resort to sleeping in tents.

Ian Walters co-ordinates Ipswich's soup kitchen, where the homeless, and people with drink and drug problems, can go to eat.

The kitchen caters for up to 35 people a night and the outreach team are regular visitors.

Mr Walters recognises the problem of homelessness from his work in the community. He said: “It just isn't possible to open the doors of any old building and let people in. Just like any business serving food or accommodating people, there are certain regulations to follow.

“Homelessness is a big problem and while places like the Salvation Army and YMCA provide a vital service, they are almost always full to capacity because people are not moving on. You can't really through them back on the street when they fail to find something more permanent, especially after doing so much work with them.

“Wilbury House provides a short term answer but if nowhere else can be found then people have to return to the street. I sometimes think people are better off being left there rather than build their hopes up like that.”

IPSWICH Borough Council has been working with the men living in the Ipswich graveyard for much of the past year but has been unable to find a solution to the problem.

Today it said it would continue to offer help to the men.

Steven Wells, Housing Services portfolio holder at Ipswich Borough Council, says that help was available to people who want it but that establishing a night shelter in the town was not the solution.

He said: “In the lead up to this year's elections, all three parties agreed that a night shelter was not the way forward.

“We looked to our local counterparts in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex where they had night shelters in operation but we found that if anything rough sleeping had increased. In fact Norwich was forced to close its shelter.

“The estimated cost of opening such a facility was about £1million. To find that money would mean a ten per cent increase in council tax and in the current climate such an increase could push other people over the boundary.”

But he insisted that help could only be given if those in need were willing to accept it.

Mr Wells said: “They don't have to be there. The reason why we still see people sleeping rough is that some people just don't want help. Others simply won't engage with authority - so it's not that help isn't available.”

Referring specifically to the Ipswich graveyard which men are now camping in, a spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council said: “We have in the past tried to help and we're not turning our back on these people or anyone who is in need but we can't force people to accept our help.

“We constantly monitor the situation and have in fact reunited a homeless man with his estranged son, enabling him to move out of the graveyard

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