WISBECH: Barclay launches bid for homeless shelter despite official figures showing no problem

EXCLUSIVE By JOHN ELWORTHY THE man tipped to become Fenland s next MP has questioned claims by the district council that on average only one person is sleeping rough locally each night. Stephen Barclay, chosen by Tories as the successor to Malcolm Moss,



THE man tipped to become Fenland's next MP has questioned claims by the district council that on average only one person is sleeping rough locally each night.

Stephen Barclay, chosen by Tories as the successor to Malcolm Moss, says that not only has he evidence of a growing problem but he hopes the council will provide £100,000 to run a night shelter in the centre of Wisbech.

"There is evidence of a need for some provision of short term overnight 'emergency' accommodation in Wisbech amongst both migrant workers and the local population," he says.

Mr Barclay has been working with church leaders, local councillors and charity workers in Wisbech preparing a business plan to provide a temporary night shelter- and has even identified the likely premises.

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However the findings of Mr Barclay's Homelessness Action Group contrast with the council's own analysis which, according to their own annual performance report published just three weeks ago, says that only one person is thought to be "sleeping rough on a single night within the area of the local authority."

Mr Barclay's challenges this position and says that over several months Wisbech police, staff at the Rosmini Centre and town centre church leaders have been dealing with problems arising from a "variable level of street homelessness."

Last night a spokesman for Fenland District Council said the report to the Government had actually suggested they may be between 0 and 10 people sleeping rough on Fenland's streets.

"The council's Best Value Performance Indicator (BVPI) number 202 for 2007/08 submitted to the Government recorded that there are estimated to be between zero and 10 rough sleepers in Fenland," he said.

"Historically, the feedback from partners has indicated that there are between nought and one rough sleepers in Fenland.

"However, in the last few months, with the downturn in the economy, we have been concerned that this figure may be creeping up, which is why the council has been working with a number of organisations to establish a night stop facility.

"While the feedback from our partners indicates that the actual number of people sleeping rough in Fenland may now be above 10, the Government does not allow us to move from category one (0 to 10 sleeping rough) to category two (11 to 20 sleeping rough) without first conducting a count, which must include a representative from the Communities and Local Government Department. This count is due to take place in the coming months."

Mr Barclays says Wisbech based charities are prepared to provide £20,000 towards the capital costs of getting the project off the ground but district council funding is needed to pay for the running costs.

The team working on the project have identified premises at 17 Norfolk Street owned by the Ferry Project to house between 8 to 12 homeless people, both UK nationals and migrants. It will need four staff to run the centre and is hopeful the council will agree to provide not only the initial funding but a further £125,000 to continue it for an additional 15 months.

The action group's report, now before the council, says resources in the town are being stretched and no current agency has access to sufficient emergency short term accommodation.

Mr Barclay says an immediate and short term solution is needed prior to a permanent £1.4 million night shelter run by the Ferry Project has secured financing- Fenland Council has been awarded half the money from the Government's Place of Change fund and the other half is now being sought.

Mr Barclay's action group says the homeless in Wisbech fall broadly into there categories:

1: Eastern Europeans whose accommodation is tied to their work. A small but regular flow of homeless migrant workers are coming forward who lose their homes after being laid off from contract work. Some women are included in this group and they have been found to have been sleeping rough in local parks.

2: UK nationals, whom Mr Barclay describes as the "hidden homeless", young people, under 25, living in unsuitable housing, perhaps 'sofa surfing' (staying with friends) and some are reporting to be living in garden sheds and garages.

3: Eastern Europeans with drink/drug dependency who may have experienced homelessness before arriving in Fenland. They would be housed "on a case by case basis" where staff felt they could take them in without jeopardising the work of the centre.