Vicar backs call to remove homeless and their tents
- Credit: Dan Mason
An official ‘closure order’ may be used to remove an encampment in the centre of Wisbech populated by a growing number of homeless people.
Fenland District Council is considering that as an option to remove the unofficial encampment where up to 15 or 16 are thought to be living in a dozen tents.
The tents are next to the privately owned Inspiration House in Church Terrace, which was at one time a vicarage and more recently the town’s registry office.
The house is let to the charity Change Grow Live which provides an alcohol and drug rehabilitation service.
However, the grounds have been ‘taken over’ by homeless individuals and couples.
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A spokesperson for Fenland Council said: “Due to reports of persistent anti-social behaviour and nuisance, a closure order is being considered.
“This is one of a number of options being looked as a way of improving the situation.”
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The spokesperson said that part of the process leading to seeking a closure order/notice is “warning and consultation”.
The potential order was mentioned at Monday’s town council meeting by Cllr Sam Hoy, who is also the portfolio holder for housing at Fenland Council.
The council spokesperson said communication with the town council was part of the consultation process.
“Any feedback from the consultation process will be considered in advance of making a final decision on what is the most appropriate and proportionate response/intervention,” the spokesperson added.
Campaigner Simon Crowson works nightly providing meals for the homeless through the 5050 charity he helped to set up with the Salvation Army.
He said he visited the encampment recently when he found eight tents with 11 people living there.
“But I gave out three more tents last night,” he said.
Mr Crowson says the encampment is a mixture of English and Eastern Europeans and most have ended up there after hotel accommodation paid for by Government funds during the pandemic had come to an end.
He said there were many reasons why alternative housing has not or cannot be offered.
Some have no entitlement to other funding or benefit – Eastern Europeans for instance who have not worked for the previous 12 months have no entitlement to benefits.
He said some have no income whatsoever, while some are simply not well enough to work.
Mr Crowson said the ages of those living there range from the late 20s to others in their 60s.
He believes one solution could be to provide officials camps for homeless, in the same way the Government provides accommodation for asylum seekers.
Revd Canon Matthew Bradbury is vicar of St Peter and St Paul’s, lives nearby, and has seen the encampment grow.
He said: “My major concern is the lack of sanitary facilities and particularly because of heightened concerns during the pandemic there are all sorts of health issues to consider.
“It is simply not safe for the people who are there.
“And the community is not safe because there is trouble associated with the site.
“It is a very public place and where we live, right next to a car park and there is often trouble with pub turning out time.
“The occupants of that piece of land get awakened late at night, draw attention to themselves and there is the risk of confrontation and serious trouble.”
The Rev Bradbury is emphatic that “no one should be homeless in this day and age” and says authorities have a duty to help.
“It is not a situation which can be ignored,” he said.
“There have been problems with this piece of land for many years but this is the worst it's been in my five years”
The vicar said he would welcome a closure order providing the owners of Inspiration House put suitable security fencing around the grounds “which would make the centre of town of town a safer place”.
He believes it is a much wider problem and for society as a whole to accept responsibility.
“I am sure if it was straightforward then Fenland Council would have solved it in the twinkling of an eye,” he said.
“But it has come a tipping point. Where one sleeping in a tenant is now an encampment of 10 or more, it creates a public hygiene and safety issue.”
The vicar said he hoped people can come together to find them alternative accommodation.
"Allowing a camp to grow right in middle of town next to public buildings for people who clearly need help and have problems beyond homelessness cannot continue,” he added.
Ironically it was a year ago this week that council leader Chris Boden addressed a conference of council leaders about how Fenland was dealing with homelessness during the pandemic.
He said: “For us as a council, with 57 rough sleepers in a small rural town, it has been both challenging and rewarding to remove rough sleepers from the streets, with the spirit of partnership at the heart of our work.”
Cllr Boden was speaking at ‘Covid-19 and homelessness– where next?’ webinar hosted by the Local Government Association
He told his audience: “We have a plan for each of our rough sleepers and are committed to no one returning to rough sleeping if at all possible.”