Sprawling 'tent city' on the outskirts of Wisbech reflects the extent to which homelessness has engulfed this Fenland town

PUBLISHED: 10:26 18 March 2019

The 'tent city' on the outskirts of Wisbech, a symbol of the homeless situation in the town. Picture; SUBMITTED

The 'tent city' on the outskirts of Wisbech, a symbol of the homeless situation in the town. Picture; SUBMITTED

AdGarry Samuels

The actual figure for how many rough sleepers there are in Wisbech varies between the official record (an annual count that is used for Government statistics) and the reality of what many homeless people tell those who ask.

The 'tent city' on the outskirts of Wisbech, a symbol of the homeless situation in the town. Picture; SUBMITTEDThe 'tent city' on the outskirts of Wisbech, a symbol of the homeless situation in the town. Picture; SUBMITTED

Officially Fenland Council last year recorded 23 (by comparison Cambridge recorded 27 on the same day) but most people in Wisbech believe the figure is double that.

Irrespective of what officialdom may think or believe, the evidence provided by this encampment on the outskirts of town suggests that although the accommodation may be temporary the situation is embedded and worsening.

Fenland Council says it “thoroughly encourages” the public to report anyone who is rough sleeping so they can offer them help.

The 'tent city' on the outskirts of Wisbech, a symbol of the homeless situation in the town. Picture; SUBMITTED The 'tent city' on the outskirts of Wisbech, a symbol of the homeless situation in the town. Picture; SUBMITTED

But the council accepts that tackling homelessness remains “an extremely complex issue, with no single solution.

“It is deeply interlinked with mental health issues, drug and alcohol dependency, welfare cuts, poor private rental conditions and much more,” said a spokesman.

“Although our aim is to help every rough sleeper in Fenland, we also have to accept that not everybody wishes to be helped.”

The 'tent city' on the outskirts of Wisbech, a symbol of the homeless situation in the town. Picture; SUBMITTED The 'tent city' on the outskirts of Wisbech, a symbol of the homeless situation in the town. Picture; SUBMITTED

The council says some don’t want to be separated from friends living on the streets whilst other don’t like night shelters because of the ban on using drugs or alcohol.

The spokesman added that in some instances “rough sleepers are at a particularly chaotic point in their lives and have complex mental health needs which prevent them from engaging with the help offered”.

We’ve chosen not to provide the location for this sprawling mass of tents on the advice of volunteers trying to help.

Earlier this year a group set up to offer support for the town’s homeless posted the following to a Facebook group: “Please can I advise all the generous people who have been wanting to help the homeless, do not advertise where they are.

“And for your own safety do not deliver or visit the camps yourself, donate what you have to give to one of the homeless charities as they are on good terms with the camps.

“Tempers as you can imagine run very high in these situations and both police and ambulance have been called out frequently, most recent was due to a knife attack, so please use an organization to deliver items.”

The town has been generous in helping with cafes and restaurants providing food, soup and hot drinks and on a regular basis.

Schools have got involved too, with Thomas Clarkson Academy pupils over Christmas filling more than 60 shoe boxes with warm clothing, toiletries and food for the town’s homeless.

There is plenty of evidence to show the town cares but there are cracks beginning to show in how widespread that support extends. Photographs of those spending their days drinking and then sleeping off their hang over attract numerous comments, mostly of a disapproving nature.

The solution is both complex and challenging – meanwhile homeless charities do their best and the Government hands money out to councils and groups trying to resolve it.

The situation is not unique to Wisbech – to many who live, work or shop there it just seems that it is.

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