Sleeping rough and living in fear: shocking attacks on Mansfield’s homeless

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For those who have to sleep rough every night, the bitter cold of recent weeks is just one problem. They also live in constant fear of attack, with tents set on fire and pelted with stones.

Chad reporter KEVIN ROGERS met two of them at the Beacon Centre and found out how they and others are ‘slipping through the net’....

The Beacon Project on St John Street is a voluntary Mansfield centre run on a shoestring budget to give help to people who are down on their luck.

For a few hours a week it is a place where disadvantaged and vulnerable people can go to get food, cooked meals, a shower and wash their clothes.

Manager Louisa Hillman estimates that of the 30-50 people using Beacon, 70 per cent are homeless.

She said: “They may have mental health issues and anxiety problems. There are complex issues - it is not straightforward for them to get a place.

“Some have drug and alcohol issues. They may have been in prison. They need supported housing to help them and there just isn’t enough of that.

“There are loopholes in some of these systems.

“Some have been offered flats but not the support and they just can’t cope with living unless they have that one-to-one support and so they end up on the streets.”

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Louisa says the Beacon is one of the few places that can take people in without ‘red tape’. Run entirely on donations, it also offers food packs and clothes.

The centre has links with Framework, a run scheme which helps get homeless people into accommodation.

She said: “According to Framework there are currently 24 homeless people registered with them.

“There are a lot in tents, some will ‘sofa surf’ with friends and family but it’s not something they can do every night.”

Other resources homeless people can turn to include a ‘soup run’ in Mansfield and a council-run night shelter.

“If the temperature drops below a certain level like now, it is open all week, but it is normally open just at weekends,” said Louisa.

“When it stops a few people literally sleep under bridges.”

But not all of the people she sees are registered with the council or Framework.

“It is single men in the majority,” said Louisa.

“Without family or dependents, they are put to the bottom of the housing list.

“One man has been on the council books for seven years - he now says he just expects to remain homeless.

“A lot of them have quite accepted that nobody gives a damn about them.”

Michael Linford (28) was thawing out at the Beacon Centre after eating his Wednesday meal, when I caught up with him.

He has been living in a tent since November. “It is horribly cold,” he said.

Michael, who has a congenital eye condition, has spent his life in and out of prison and readily admits he feels better off there.

“Hopefully soon I’ll be back in prison, I don’t want to sleep out in this. It’s better than being out here,” he said.

“At least you get three meals a day and a roof over your head.”

He is half blind and says he has been waiting for a social worker for over a year now.

“I have alcohol problems. I came back to Mansfield and when I have alcohol pushed in front me it is hard to say no,” he said.

“I have asthma and sleeping in a tent you can get pneumonia in this weather.”

Tent dwellers also suffer fungal infections because their feet are never dry and donated shoes don’t always fit.

In the worst cases people with diabetes could lose their feet.

Michael added: “What I need is housing and support. I want to stop drinking, get a house and find a decent girlfriend.

“I’m to blame for not getting anywhere with the council, but I’m not to blame for me going blind.”

Another man I spoke to, aged 34, also sleeping rough revealed how he was evicted from his flat at the age of 19 after a joint tenancy left him with rent arrears of £2,000. He has been homeless ever since.

As if the cold damp and illness were not enough - homeless people are living in a constant climate of fear.

Every time he sleeps rough he risks being ‘jumped’, vandals pelting his tent with stones or having his tent set on fire

“I sleep off and on,” he said.

“I don’t want to go to sleep all night, because I’m on edge.”

“I am in a hole and I can’t get out. I just need a break.”

He has friends who will put him up but he says if anything goes missing from their homes, he knows he would get the blame.

Like many other homeless people, he has been sanctioned for three months by the DWP. This time for missing filling in a job sheet.

“You can apply for hardship money, he said.

“But if it wasn’t for this place and the soup run I don’t know what I would do.”

“I feel ashamed and embarrassed. I can’t get a job. I have nowhere stable. I would love to get a job.

“Not every homeless person is a druggie or a waste of space. I may not look tidy but there is a real person behind it all.”

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