Fate of new homeless hub to be decided this morning amid police drug trafficking fears

PUBLISHED: 08:15 12 September 2019 | UPDATED: 08:49 12 September 2019

The Recorder Road area of Norwich where St Martins Housing Trust hopes to set up a new homeless hub PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

The Recorder Road area of Norwich where St Martins Housing Trust hopes to set up a new homeless hub PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

The fate of a pioneering new facility to help Norwich’s rough sleepers will be sealed today, amid fears from police it could lead to drug trafficking problems.

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martin's Housing Trust. Picture: St Martin'sDr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martin's Housing Trust. Picture: St Martin's

St Martins Housing Trust, which is a local leader in supporting people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, will discover this week if it can use a former office block on Recorder Road for an innovative new hub.

The building will provide a centre for the charity to offer urgent support for the people it cares for, while also housing more than a dozen temporary beds so those in most immediate need can have a roof above their heads with support straight away.

However, ahead of the proposals going before Norwich City Council on Thursday, police have raised concerns over the safety of those who will reap the benefits of its services.

In a written response to the application, Stephanie Segens, architectural liaison officer for Norfolk Constabulary, said: "Homelessness is a multi-faceted issue and those who find themselves in this situation have multiple and complex needs that can often bring with it coping mechanisms that continue to expose them to further risk and vulnerability.

"These significant and complex situations are inevitably a draw for those who will seek to exploit vulnerable service users, for example, the purposes of drug trafficking, county lines and the resultant crime, violence and disorder."

However the charity, which heads up Pathways - the city's homelessness support service - has moved to reassure officers it will be well equipped to ward off this danger if the scheme is approved.

Jan Sheldon, chief executive at St Martins, said: "We have a zero tolerance approach to illegal and anti-social behaviour and we are very clear about this with the people who use our services.

"We are working with our planning team to make every effort to ensure that access for people who may be dealing drugs is impossible."

The plans will see the former office block equipped transformed into a 'Somewhere Safe To Stay Hub', which would be a first port of call for anybody in urgent need of the charity's care.

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It would also come equipped with 17 sleeping pods, so service users could be provided with an immediate roof over the head while further support is lined up.

Dr Sheldon said the new hub would help plug a gap in the current support offered to rough sleepers and those at risk of becoming homeless in the city.

She said: "Currently we have fantastic accommodation and sheltered housing, but we do not have the very first stop in Norwich, which is what this will provide.

"It is important that an emergency project for rough sleepers is accessible to rough sleepers and needs to be based centrally."

Despite these good intentions though, the plan has attracted a considerable level of opposition locally, particularly from neighbours.

More than 100 comments have been submitted from neighbours opposing to the plans, most of which relate to worries over anti-social behaviour.

However Dr Sheldon argued that much of the concerns relate to existing problems and these will be tackled by the hub.

She added: "It's important to acknowledge that some of the issues neighbours are currently unhappy about, such as people urinating in their gardens, will disappear if this service is available. The people using the hub will have access toilets and be off the streets.

"I think often in these situations negative reactions also come from a fear of the unknown and not fully understanding what is trying to be achieved."

The application is due to be considered by Norwich City Council's planning committee this week, with officers recommending it for approval.

In her report to the committee, case officer Katherime Brumpton said the scheme would "deliver strong community benefits".

The planning committee meets on today from 9am.

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