‘I was begging the doctor to take my leg’: Sleeping rough in Nottingham during the pandemic

Two people sleeping rough in Nottingham.

Rough sleeping in Nottingham, already a problem before Covid-19, has risen during the pandemic. Charity Framework also says the number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time has also gone up. Local Democracy Reporter Matt Jarram went out on a shift with the organisation’s street outreach team to meet some of them.

“I was begging a doctor at City Hospital to take my leg off because it was black and done.”

These are the words of David Oldershaw, 42, who has been living ‘on and off’  the streets of Nottingham for the last five years.

The reason behind his homeless situation is complicated, as are many of the stories on the city’s streets, but this one involves a relationship.

Homeless charity Framework says the number of rough sleepers in Nottingham is rising – and around two thirds of them are on the streets for the first time.

Bedding down in car parks, behind the Victoria Centre, or in shop door ways in Angel Row and Lower Parliament Street, the last head count for November found 21 sleeping rough.

Living off a diet of kiosk pastry bakes and fast food burgers, some say they have turned to heroin, crack cocaine and mamba to survive the harsh weather conditions and degrading lifestyle.

In the 12 months to October 2020, Framework’s outreach team worked with 760 people in the city.

For the same period to October 2021 the number has climbed to 805.

In Nottinghamshire county, the number of people rose from 251 to 333 – 170 of which were sleeping rough for the first time compared to 100 the year before.

New people arriving on the streets is often as a result of relationship breakdowns, but also evictions for rent arrears and a spike in prison releases, the charity says.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service was given access to the outreach team’s work on Wednesday, December 1.

David, originally from Beeston, is found at 5.30am in Huntingdon Street car park with two women and a man.

They are wide awake, huddled on the hard concrete in sleeping bags, surrounded by lighters, cigarette paper and rolling tobacco.

David admits he has been taking drugs.

Framework staff say three out of the four have accommodation – including David.

He shares a house in St Ann’s – but he doesn’t want to be there. This is not an uncommon theme; people choosing the streets over hostels or housing.

“I have crackheads in there all night,” he said. “Crowded in the kitchen at 4am. The house is a s*** hole. It is not worth £400 a month. I would rather stay out here.

“I am really funny about the people I have around me. I wouldn’t talk now unless I am comfortable with you or really high.”

David says he has bipolar disorder and borderline schizophrenia. He suffers from deep vein thrombosis after injecting heroin into his leg. He shows me his scars.

“I smoke it now. I don’t dig (inject) it any more. I was begging the doctor at City Hospital to take my leg off because it was black and done. They sorted [treated] it.

“I would not be able to live out here and not use. I would be too cold or dead.

“My phone has no credit so I can’t even call my doctor for help. I have spent all my money on drugs rather than topping up my phone.”

David kept his leg after treatment but says he spent £85 on drugs yesterday – some of the money he received from begging.

Framework outreach team leader, Sam Lanes, checking on a rough sleeper outside Boots in Nottingham city centre.

Framework Outreach Team is a lifeline for the homeless – each morning, at 5am, they stroll the streets, checking hotspots, and providing welfare checks and even food and hot drinks.

Today, there are six homeless people on the priority list from the night before, and they will carry out assessments in the hope of finding them suitable accommodation.

‘Priority’ can mean pregnant women or people with disabilities. The assessment will be sent to Nottingham City Council so a personal housing plan can be drawn up.

The charity can also refer the homeless to some beds in the city, including eight at their base in London Road. But there are not always beds available.

The charity says they will never turn anyone down, but lack of beds can happen “quite regularly.” However, they will “continue to look for options.”

Sam Lanes, team leader of the outreach team, said: “There has been an increase in rough sleeping in Nottingham. People are no longer ‘sofa surfing’ because of Covid or being there too long and I feel there could be more done before it gets to rough sleeping.

“They get evicted for rent arrears but where was the support?

“Nine out of 10 times alcohol and drugs came later.  The stigma is that ‘they are all druggies and alcoholics’. They are not.

“They had a good life then something traumatic happened like a relationship breakdown. A lot of them are intelligent. There is one that was a lecturer at Oxford University.”

Kevin, 44, is bright and intelligent. Nestled in a corner outside McDonald’s on Angel Row, he says the city council has sorted him out a flat.

It is two weeks until the moving in date. He will remain on the streets until then and declines Framework’s support.

A big fan of reggae and soul music – he can reel off all the artists – he was made homeless a month ago.

He has schizophrenia but says he doesn’t touch drugs.

He said: “It is not safe on the streets, it is dangerous, but you have got to do what you have got to do. In shared accommodation there is too many drugs.”

A man sleeps rough in Nottingham city centre. Framework says the proportion of newly homeless people has risen.

Andrew, 59, lives in a tent covered by a camping sheet on Clumber Street with his 11-year-old rescue dog. He also fears shared housing is packed with drug addicts – some who will bully others for cash so they can get their fix.

He says he has served time in prison – but has “sorted his life out” now.

Speaking about being homeless, he said: “Having to live this lifestyle is degrading and chips at you.

“I am strong minded. I know where I have been and what I have done but you start to feel lesser when people look at you.

“It is the feeling of not being valued. You can ask people the time and they will say ‘I don’t have any change.’ You get tagged.”

Christmas is the hardest time for the homeless, says outreach street worker Charlotte Read.

She said: “The worst thing they say is Christmas Day. There is no-one here and even McDonald’s is closed. They can’t even go to the loo.

“Anyone can be made homeless. Anyone can be a pay check away from it.”

Sam Lanes, Framework outreach team leader with Charlotte Read, street outreach worker.

Cllr Linda Woodings (Lab), Portfolio Holder for Housing, Planning and Heritage at Nottingham City Council, said the local authority has secured £10m of government grants over the past three years to help support rough sleepers.

She said: “Rough sleeping remains a complex issue to solve. Many people on the streets have a range of physical and mental illnesses, some are drug-dependant and often people travel from outside the city.

“We do not have a statutory duty to provide shelter to all rough sleepers but through a daily outreach session we ensure that we are aware of everyone on the streets and routinely make beds available.

“There are different accommodation options available to meet a range of needs. However, offers can be refused for a variety of reasons and we work closely with Framework, Emmanuel House and other partners to continue to engage with and support these individuals in other ways.

“The council provides more than 400 units of supported accommodation for homeless people and helps hundreds more to find housing and prevent homelessness from occurring.

“We know that there is much more work to do to prevent people becoming homeless and to help them move forward. Homelessness is not a condition but a symptom of something else and we must continue to work across the public, private and community sector to address the causes.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said:  “We remain committed to ending rough sleeping for good.

“The Everyone In scheme launched during the pandemic has helped 37,000 vulnerable people, and we are building on this success with over £800 million this year to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness, including £1.6 million for Nottingham.

“Our £10 million Winter Pressures fund will accommodate up to 3,500 rough sleepers, and more than 60 councils, including Nottingham City Council, will receive a share of the up to £52 million drug and alcohol treatment grant for specialist support services for rough sleepers.”

If people see someone sleeping rough in Nottingham or Nottinghamshire they are encouraged to let the Outreach Teams know by phoning 0800 066 5356.

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