Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Opposition to Endell Street hostel

May 21 2009
Covent Garden locals are vocal about the reopening of St Mungo‘s Covent Garden hostel The reopening of a St Mungo's hostel in Covent Garden after a year-long refurbishment programme has prompted strong words and questions about its impact on the life of the local community. The Endell Street hostel, which was closed in March last year, will reopen in April after going through a major overhaul. Many Covent Garden residents represented by community groups, however, have strongly opposed the reopening due to the hostel's reputation for bringing drug dealing, theft and 'chaotic lifestyle' into the area, where the high rates of drug dealing had always been a concern for locals. Kim Church, editor of the monthly magazine In and Around Covent Garden, claimed the hostel had contributed to the area's poor crime record. "The closure of the hostel had a substantial impact,"said Mr Church. St Mungo's acknowledged Mr Church's concerns. Marie Benton, campaigns and communications manager for the charity, said: "We do recognise that there were problems with anti-social behaviour in the area. A lot of those emerged as the most vulnerable residents of the hostel were targeted by drug dealers." In and around Covent Garden has lent its support to the opposition against what on its website it calls "the druggie hostel in Endell Street‚Äö?Ñ??. The magazine teamed up with the Covent Garden Community Association, which had been lobbying Camden Council against the reopening. Letter from readers, which appear on the magazine's website, highlight how after the hostel closed down "the dealing stopped almost overnight‚Äö?Ñ??, and suggest "there is no support in the local community"for the hostel. The magazine reported incidents it alleged had occurred to its readers, such as "an 80-year-old woman who was punched in the face"and "diners in a nearby restaurant having their food spat in by begging junkies believed to be resident at the Endell Street hostel.' Mr Church said the magazine - and the people involved in the lobbying against the hostel - supported the homeless care industry and was sympathetic to "these unfortunate addicts‚Äö?Ñ??. "We do care about drug addicts, but we do not think they should be parked in a home until their condition becomes institutionalised,"he said. "We are absolutely adamant that we no longer want a hostel there, because it is the wrong place for a hostel." However, it is hoped that the lower crime activity in the area during the Endell Street hostel's major overhaul will not rise once things are back to business. Thanks to the ¬¨¬£3.2m funding provided by Camden Council, the hostel was refurbished , while its offer of services was expanded and focused towards helping people get off the streets. The number of beds was reduced from 98 to 53, and the allocation of bed spaces changed. Twenty will be 'move through' beds, given to people who are ready to move into sheltered housing. There will be a number of 'six-month beds' for people who are scheduled to spend a limited time into the hostel. The number of 'assessment' beds given to people who come right from the street, will be reduced to 13. As well as regular counselling and health services, the hostel will provide ways for residents to participate in the life of the local community and start employment. It will pilot a Camden scheme called 'Pathways to Employment', which helps people find their vocational aspirations and get to full-time employment. The funding from Camden Council ties St Mungo's to a "locality management agreement‚Äö?Ñ??, which means that the charity has responsibility for the smooth running of the operation and the residents' relationship with the local community. If the terms of the contract are broken, the funding could be in jeopardy. Ms Benton said: "We are trying to work towards the residents' recovery and independence. The presence of people on their way to sheltered housing will provide a model to the ones who are not ready yet, and hopefully will help these see the benefit of having aspirations rather than being sedentary in a hostel. We are trying to bring in people who are ready to engage with the local community." She added: "We are extremely committed to a change, and we are doing our best to reassure the community that the situation will improve." St Mungo's has organised meetings with the community ahead of the reopening, however Ms Benton said so far they had been attended by a tiny number of community residents. "Our offer to engage with the community was not taken up,"she said. "We have tried to be transparent about what we do to minimise the antagonism. However our primary concern is the welfare of the hostel's residents."
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