The level of homelessness in Mansfield may be putting rough sleepers in danger as a war over territory results in violence.
In a new investigation by the Chad we reveal that homelessness is not only much higher than stated by local authorities, but Mansfield attracts rough sleepers from other areas.
Inconsistency in homelessness prevention services around the country may be driving rough sleepers to migrate in search of sympathetic councils, and Mansfield has become over-burdened as word spreads that the council has above average provision to help those in need.
And as we uncover a culture of migration to the local area, it emerges that so many people are sleeping on our street that dangerous battles over territory are being fought, resulting in numerous ‘burn-outs’ of tents and pitches. But the dangers are completely avoidable as calls are made to stop treating homelessness as a local issue - which rejects thousands from receiving help because they’re not sleeping rough in the remit of their own local authority.
Maria Gibson, a social campaigner and leader at the Mansfield Soup Kitchen says it had become more and more common to see people travel to Mansfield to declare themselves homeless.
She adds: “Homelessness is a migratory thing, and people move from town to town because they’ve got no baggage. Lots of people come from all over, people from London and people from Europe that are struggling. Many are usually coming from London and have family roots here. Its a subculture of people who look after each other - they’re well connected and they let each other know where to go. Now we’ve got this NIMBY situation, but they’re homeless no matter where they are.”
But in Mansfield, the tight-knit community has rogue elements - some members are highly territorial which leaves others fearing for their safety.
“If they’ve got a got a good stable spot they want to keep it. It’s scary – it’s very territorial. It’s almost medieval,” says Maria. They’re out there fighting for survival – it’s not just fighting for their entitlements, they’re fighting a war for territory.”
One competitive pitch is at the Sutton Reservoir, we’re told, and in December last year one of the men who visits the Soup Kitchen suffered the same fate.
“He was sleeping down the back of the reservoir by the dam, and he got his camp burnt out,” says Maria.
A couple from Poland appeared in Mansfield in the past few weeks - and they came to the soup kitchen for help, tells Maria.
“They came to us and said ‘we have nothing’. the shame for them to ask was heart rendering. We asked everyone to give what they could and we put together a rucksack with tents, sleeping backs, ground sheets, matts, everything. They were so grateful. Since then, they’ve been burned out. This is why they’re so protective. If you ask anybody where they’re shacking up they’re reluctant – they’ll say ‘they’ll come and burn me out’.”
The burn-outs may have hit crisis point when a major fire brought down the roof of a derelict double glazing factory in December.
Nottinghamshire Fire & Rescue found evidence that people had been living in there and using stoves and barbeques, and while they couldn’t prove someone set the fire deliberately, Maria heard what happened from the group who were sleeping in the building.
“A guy wanted to stay and the group said no, so he set fire to the building,” she tells. “It’s a good spot, and if any of these guys want your pitch they’ll go to any lengths to get you out of it - even burn it down.”
Dan Aiken was homeless until recently, and has just found accommodation after being on the street for 19 months. He said it was almost impossible to get help if you’re not from the area.
He tells: “I was staying here there and everywhere, tents under the train station, under the bridge. The group that found me under the bridge were called help the homeless. They basically started the charity because there didn’t think there was enough help for us. While I was on the streets I was trying to engage with Framework, but it’s harder when you haven’t lived here for a long time and that’s a lot of people’s grind at the minute.
"They haven’t got a local connection. The council and framework put them on a waiting list and put them to the back. It’s true that Mansfield attracts people from outside as the council has a particularly large precedent on helping the homeless,” Dan adds. “You see it all the time.”
‘I can’t go back, and they can’t do nothing for me’ with picture
Andy Warne is a rough sleeper in Mansfield. Originally from Batterea in London he’s been in the wider area for decades, and after escaping a violent partner, he was left homeless and has been on and off the streets for the past three years.
“I’m completely homeless,” he says. “I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a few friends that have helped me and put me up. Being homeless you’re in that community, your out on the streets all the time and you meet people, and you support each other. I’ve been up these ends since 1989, but I’ve lived all over, Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley doing all sorts of jobs. When I came from Chesterfield to Mansfield they told me because it was domestic violence they would be able to help me. I decided to stay up here.”
But because Andy doesn’t come from the area or have any local connections to Mansfield - he says he’s been left out of council services available to get homeless people in shelter and help rough sleepers get back into stable environments. “I’ve had nowt,” he said.
Andy sleeps in a disused shop doorway most nights. He relies on the Soup Kitchens for food and the kindness of strangers for change. He’s one of the many people caught in a trap created by local authorities that leaves people in the cold if they refuse to go back to where they came from. So why won’t he go back to Battersea?
“Have you tried living in London? The rents down there... It’s crazy.” He says. “I’ve got nowhere to live so I can’t get on benefits. I can’t get a job – if you can wake up for work at six in the morning, after spending the night in a shop doorway, fair play to you.”
But he desperately wants to get back on track and rebuild his life, as he admits he’s an alcoholic and has had run-ins with the police due to drinking.
Andy adds: “I want to try and get sober, I’ve got a 24-year-old son in Sheffield. He’s a vet. I’d like to see him and make sure he’s okay. It’s all my doing he became a vet. When he was a kid I bought him a German Shepherd and him and that dog are inseparable. It’d be nice for me to be able to say to him, ‘this is where I live, come and see me’.
“I messed up last year because I went to prison four time. I stole booze and I got caught. But I was homeless, so I was better off there than out here. But, I don’t want to go back down that road. I’m trying very hard to change my life. It’s a slow process.”
Homeless migrate in search of help, says Council
Mansfield District Council admitted many rough sleepers are coming to the area because similar services are not on offer elsewhere: “Our experience indicates that more people on low income are using soup kitchens and seeking access to homelessness support services in our area. Many of these people are not residents of Mansfield, they come to the district as there are no similar services offered in their own areas.”
MDC provides more than the statutory minimum service – along with key information on housing rights, opportunities and benefits the authority has a shared service dedicated to activity that prevents homelessness.
Director for Communities Hayley Barsby said: “The quality of help and the guidance that our housing staff give sets Mansfield apart from other authorities in our region. The advice we give on money management, benefits, debt, harassment and eviction demonstrates that we go the extra mile for our customers. This may be one of the reasons why people come from outside the area to ask for our help”