Bury St Edmunds: Homeless people turned away

A VOLUNTEER is calling for changes to the way homeless people are allocated emergency accommodation.

Her comments come after a businessman paid for two young homeless men to stay in a Bury St Edmunds hotel on Christmas night to prevent them from sleeping in a “flooded shop doorway”.

Last night, a spokesman for St Edmundsbury Council defended their system for referring homeless people to sheltered accommodation.

But ex-teacher Fiona Watts, who helped at a Christmas day dinner in Bury run by the Gatehouse charity, claims she spent more than three hours calling local housing groups in an attempt to find beds for the men, who attended the lunch. She was told they could not have overnight accommodation because the temperature had not dipped below freezing on three consecutive nights.

Ms Watts said: “When I found out these guys were literally going to be dropped off in a flooded shop doorway, I thought it made a farce of the whole day. But when we rang round, every shelter was either full up or operated a referral system that took several days - and most shelters weren’t even open. There was not one place available for a homeless person on Christmas Day which I find incredible.”

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Eventually, one of the lunch volunteers, businessman Simon De Laat, decided to pay for the pair to spend the night in a local hotel. But according to Ms Watts, this should never have been necessary. She added: “There should be a review of ridiculous conditions relating to the weather because although it wasn’t freezing, it was very wet and there had been floods.

“I don’t understand why a local businessman had to put his hand in his pocket for something that should already be in place.”

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One of the organisations contacted by Ms Watts was Havebury Housing Partnership, which provides accommodation for 19 homeless people at Tayfen House and six temporary “emergency” beds that are only used in freezing weather.

Their director of operations, Philip Sullivan, said: “The facilities mean that demand for Tayfen House is always very high and it is currently fully occupied.

“The team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to offer support to residents and advice to other homeless people in the area.

“In addition, Tayfen House operates an emergency cold weather provision in partnership with the Housing Options team at St Edmundsbury Borough Council, who make the referrals when the temperature is zero or below for three consecutive nights.”

A spokesman for St Edmundsbury, which has statutory responsibility for dealing with homelessness in the area, said: “At 5pm on Christmas Day the duty officer for homelessness dealt with a request for accommodation for two men – which is allocated according to need.

“These young single men were directed to the nearest night shelter and advised to come into the council offices on Thursday for their housing options to be dealt with in detail.

“This was the only homelessness case we dealt with over the Christmas period. The two people in this case made contact with us and were given appropriate advice.”

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