Just opening the church doors to the homeless of Hastings isn’t enough

Your letters to the newspaper
Your letters to the newspaper

From: Eric Waters, Ingleside Crescent, Lancing

I am writing in reply to the letter from Steve Wise, headed ”How many more empty words?”, that appeared in a recent edition of the Observer.

In it, Mr Wise wanted to know how many churches in Hastings are empty every night, as he believes that they could be used for the benefit of what he termed ‘the excluded minority’ – the ‘homeless’.

Well, Mr Wise, having had 20 years of experience as a manager of Brighton’s largest direct access hostel, a place which cared for over 60 homeless men with special needs at any one time, I can assure you that things are not that simple. Far from it.

If a church wants to open its doors to the street community, it immediately incurs a responsibility of care for the people using its premises, and it must comply with all the relevant legislation regarding such things as Health, Safety and Welfare, and Fire Safety regulations.

It must also ensure that the volunteers caring for those using their premises are competent to do so, and have the skills that are needed in this field of work.

They also need to be available 24 hours a day, because a church cannot simply open its doors and leave those using the building to just ‘get on with it’, as the church leaders would be responsible for the inevitable and resultant chaos.

When I first became a hostel manager we offered our residents what we considered to be a first class service.

For example, they all had a single room, received a cooked breakfast and dinner every day, together with weekly access to an in-house GP. If the doctor issued them with a prescription we took it to the chemist for them, got it filled and, if deemed necessary, did our best to ensure that they actually took the medications that the doctor had recommended.

We also ensured that they were receiving all the state benefits that they were entitled to and, most importantly, we gave them an assurance they could remain living in the hostel for as long as they felt necessary.

However, all that came to a grinding halt when the government took the decision to institute a maximum stay of two years. It was the considered opinion of politicians that, after that period of time, they would be ready to “take responsibility for their own lives” and were ready be “moved on” to independent accommodation.

This misconceived policy totally ignored the fact that, for many people, doing so was totally inappropriate, bearing in mind the addictions and mental health problems that afflicted the lives of so many of them. This, to my mind, was a disastrous decision and accounts for some of the rise in the number of people that we now see in the doorways of our high streets.

Some have lost their accommodation because, due to their lifestyles, they could not cope with living on their own and it became trashed, either by themselves or by others who took advantage of them and used their accommodation for drug taking and alcohol abuse.

Others stopped taking their medications because there was no longer anyone around, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to remind them to take them. This has resulted in men and women being on the streets who quite clearly have unaddressed mental health problems.

Towards the end of his letter Mr Wise said that talk about safe-guarding, risk assessment and what he termed ‘PC innovations’ do not apply to people with no home, no shelter and no hope.

I am sorry but I have to say that he is totally wrong in his thoughts, as these are just the people that do need safe guarding, and they certainly do need risk assessing if the people seeking to help them are to be protected in their work.

A homeless policy of ‘fling wide the doors and welcome with open arms’ is far too simplistic and, believe me, would be a recipe for disaster and lives would be placed at risk.

Believe me, Mr Wise, I really do know what I am talking about.