"We keep asking the Council, `Where are these other 50 people going?' And they can't give an answer…"
This is car crash council spending. In the very week that Salford Council has been throwing £370,000 at events for the Manchester International Festival and to "celebrate the BBC's arrival in Salford and the opportunities they and MediaCityUK will bring to the city" (see here), homeless men are about to possibly be kicked out of their beds and have the roof taken from over their heads.
On Thursday, Salford Council's Housing Lead Member, Councillor Peter Connor, will be making a decision on the "cessation of supported people funding to Lancaster House" to save the £238,000 annual costs of providing temporary accommodation and support to single homeless men in the city.
The contrast between the MediaCityUK spending and the possible closure of Lancaster House - which provides a roof for an average 156 people a year - just turns the stomach of David Allum, who's a resident at the huge house on Lancaster Road and a spokesperson for the people who use the service.
"It's shocking in these economic times when they're saying we all have to tighten our belts" he says "Yeah, let's tighten our belts by not throwing a massive welcoming party for the BBC. Salford's own motto is about improving people's lives – what with, an opera?"
And while the Musical Boxes and Marina Abramovic play out on Salford Quays, the Council, apparently, keeps changing its tune as to why Lancaster House may have its funding axed.
"The official excuse was that Lancaster House isn't `strategically relevant' which doesn't mean anything, it's just two words strung together" says David "But if you look at the main word, which is `relevant'…we're the best performing hostel in Salford."
He points out that over 300 people are referred to Lancaster House each year. That 156 people on average pass through the doors each year, and that 94% of them go on to a successful outcome, which is getting their own tenancy and a job. Meanwhile, the average stay is just 2.5 months. Lancaster House isn't just a hostel, it's a successful training and resettlement centre.
Having blown out the `not strategically relevant' argument the Council now appear to be blaming the potential cut on the ConDem Coalition Government, as it's the national Supporting People funders who have recommended the axe.
"Salford Council could just say `No, we're not going to cut funding', and find efficiencies elsewhere" explains David "But they don't want to seem to give an inch."
It seems really strange that just when you'd expect demand for homeless services to increase through recession and unemployment in the city, Salford Council appear to be cutting those very services.
Already, we understand, there will be lost beds as a result of the Salvation Army moving to new premises, plus a further 38 lost beds if Lancaster House closes. David reckons that 50 beds for homeless people will be lost as a result of the cuts.
"We keep asking the Council, `Where are these other 50 people going?' And they can't give an answer" he says "And we expect demand to go up. We've seen so many different people come through here – it's not just the people you'd expect, we've had doctors, fire officers, former police officers, civil servants, all sorts, anyone from any walk of life could end up using these services. And when they need them more, the Council wants to cut them."
Those homeless figures might well increase as 14 staff at Lancaster House will also lose their jobs if the cut goes ahead. Meanwhile, Lancaster House has seen its support from Salford's community grow and grow since word first got out about its potential closure…
"It's been amazing seeing how much support we've got" says David "I'm getting emails every day saying `What can we do to support the campaign?' or `How can we help out?' At the moment we're asking people to join our facebook site and we're also asking for anyone with legal training to help us go through the documents. We're also hopefully going to organise a protest march.
"There's been some brilliant stories here at Lancaster House – about people who have come through here and gone on to some very great things" David adds "All we want here is the opportunity to be able to tell more of those stories. If this place closes that isn't going to happen, and people won't get the chance to go on and be whatever it is they're going to be…"
We asked Salford Council for a statement about Lancaster House. Councillor Peter Connor, Salford City Council's lead member for housing, responded…
"We are currently reviewing all the services we commission in Salford for single homeless and vulnerable people to ensure that we can provide the best possible services for the reduced resources we have available as a result of government funding cuts.
"Lancaster House is being considered as part of this review programme. Our main priority is the welfare of the people who use this facility and we want to be sure that they're getting a high quality and value for money service in a well maintained building. This will be the subject of a report that will be considered on 14 July 2011."
If Salford Council's decision goes through on Thursday, maybe the homeless can camp in the Blue Peter Garden at MediaCityUK…
If anyone can help with legal stuff please e-mail David Allum at email@example.com . Sign up to support the the campaign at the Save Lancaster House facebook site (click here)
UPDATE 15th JULY 2011
Salford Council yestrday delayed its decision on the futuire of Lancaster House until August 1st - so please continue to show support for the campaign