Wed, 28 Feb 2018
NEWBURY’S homeless shelter, which has provided a lifeline to rough sleepers over the winter, is closing this week – just as temperatures are predicted to plummet to below zero.
It has led to the question being asked – “where are they going to sleep now to escape the cold?”
The West Berkshire Homeless charity opened the shelter – which provides beds for 13 people in Newbury’s Salvation Army hall – on December 1.
The shelter, which is run by a dedicated team of volunteers, was running at capacity over the worst of the winter months and had to turn some people away.
The night shelter had been set to close on February 28, just as temperatures in the district have plummeted, because of planning regulations.
However, it has been granted an extra two-days at the Salvation Army hall.
The charity is also negotiating a lease on two places to run as ‘halfway houses’ for those with non-complex issues.
Meanwhile, latest Government figures suggest that the estimated number of rough sleepers in the district has increased by 43 per cent.
West Berkshire Homeless said that it had been able to help 21 people with non-complex issues to find accommodation and work in the year it had been running.
It has also helped three families avoid eviction from their homes with the help of a solicitor assisting the charity.
General secretary Erica Gassor said: “None of this would have been possible without the fantastic support of the Salvation Army offering their premises for the night shelter, the community and businesses in Newbury providing provisions and funds and our wonderful huge team of volunteers. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of individuals and companies within the area.”
Speaking about the shelter’s closure, the chief officer of Healthwatch West Berkshire, Andrew Sharp, said: “My concern is it’s proved its concept.
“It’s been full virtually every night I gather and when they are turning people away because they don’t have capacity and then closing, I would ask, where will people go when it’s below freezing?
“What are the community and authorities going to do?
“We know the weather is coming. It’s a serious issue and we need a response.”
Latest Government figures show that 20 people are estimated to be sleeping rough in the district, an increase on 2016’s estimate of 14.
However, the figure is believed to be higher than the estimated 20.
Indeed, councillors will be asked tomorrow night whether they accept that the number of rough sleepers in the district is more than 50 per cent worse than the national average.
A report revealing the true extent of rough sleeping in West Berkshire is expected to be published soon.