Hostel closes amid £1m cuts to homelessness service

Paul McPherson

Wardley Lodge resident Paul McPherson

Cuts to services supporting homeless people in Waltham Forest could result in a rise in rough sleeping in the borough, a local charity has warned.

Spending by Waltham Forest Council on projects which help single homeless people is being cut by just under £1million over the next two years.

SHP, which runs four homeless shelters in the borough, has warned that the loss in funding will see just 27 out of the 147 bed spaces in supported housing remain.

Already confirmed is the closure of Wardley Lodge, a 23-bed hostel in Leytonstone providing support and accommodation to homeless people struggling with a range of problems including mental ill health, substance addiction and a history of rough sleeping.

The hostel, run by SHP for the past 35 years, provides intensive support for local people who have been assessed as having high-support needs. While the council has pledged to rehouse existing residents after concerns were raised by SHP and its clients, the charity fears that in future, vulnerable people may end up homeless.

The chief executive of SHP, Liz Rutherford, said: “Wardley Lodge plays a critical role in the borough’s strategy to sustain a reduction in rough sleeping and I can’t see how a closure won’t result in a rise in street homelessness. Even if all existing residents are rehoused with the right support, where will those who follow after go?”

The council’s cuts come as rough sleeping in London is rising. SHP claims a head count in Waltham Forest on one night in autumn 2015 found 33 people sleeping on the streets, up from just three in 2013.

Councillor Khevyn Limbajee, cabinet member for housing, said: “We want to help homeless people get off the street for good and that means providing support to help them find a home, improve their health, find training, and get a job.

“We have developed our new homeless support service, which replaced existing hostel services on 1st July, by talking to homeless people, charities, local organisations and existing providers, to ensure we provide more than just a place to sleep for the night.

“A review of existing services in Walthm Forest found they are not effectively supporting homeless people, and money is not being spent in the most effective way. Our new service will see us working with a leading provider of support services to homeless people and rough sleepers, in partnership with local organisations. Together they have access to over 2,000 beds across London and will help us turn lives around.

“The council has worked closely with existing hostel providers, including SHP, to secure alternative accommodation for residents. This includes social housing and sheltered accommodation to the most vulnerable residents, assistance with rent deposits and payments to find private rented accommodation for less vulnerable residents.

“We continue to fund a specialist hostel that offers accommodation to former rough sleepers who have more complex needs.”

However, SHP remains critical of the new service. Wardley Lodge service manager Simona Giunta said: “Wardley Lodge is the only hostel in the borough appropriate for single homeless people with high-support needs. Our residents have led chaotic lifestyles. Many find it difficult to live independently. Hostels like this provide a lifeline for people who would otherwise be stuck in a revolving door of services.”

One hostel resident, Paul McPherson, has physical and learning difficulties and a history of mental illness. He said: “Without Wardley Lodge I’d be dead. Before I came here I was suicidal.

“When I first arrived I spent three months locked away in my room, I had no confidence. But there’s a fantastic community here. It’s done wonders for my recovery, and I’m about to start a part-time job at an allotment.

“The uncertainty I’m facing now is incredibly stressful. I don’t feel like I have a say in my future.”

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