"I've never lived on the street. I don't know what I'd do…" Lancaster House resident.
After protests and a march on Salford Council (see here), it now looks like Lancaster House will finally close its doors on October 1st, unless a High Court injunction stops the process. That gives current residents just under three weeks to find an alternative place to live, even if that is the Salford streets.
Lancaster House provides accommodation and support for homeless men, and, in July, Salford Council decided to cut funding for the service (see here). Over the past few weeks residents have been meeting with the Housing Advisory Support Service (HASS) to discuss their fate. And it's not looking good.
"If this place shuts there will potentially be a huge proportion of people who could be looking at living on the streets because, frankly, the time they've been given to secure accommodation is nowhere near long enough" says John Hadley, assistant manager at Lancaster House.
"I think these HASS sessions have been a box ticking exercise, and that's not having a go at HASS, it's having a go at the Council and those who have made this decision" he adds "They've not prepared at all for that potentiality. I would say that ninety per cent of people here would not have secured anything by the time this place closes."
Does he think that Salford Council gives a toss? "Erm, frankly, no."
One resident who wishes to remain anonymous told us that he ended up living in Lancaster House after he'd split up with his girlfriend and had nowhere to go.
"It happens to us all" he says "There's people out there all the time who find themselves in the situation I'm in. You can be from any walk of life and find yourself homeless, and if the support isn't there for you then the street is the place to go.
"To be honest I think HASS were only here to satisfy themselves that they'd done me" he adds "In the near future, hopefully, I'll get a job and I'll be able to move on. But if I don't, I don't have a clue what's going to happen – there's a strong possibility I'll end up on the street. That seems to be the general road they're going down, that if they can't help you the street is the next place. I've never lived on the street. I don't know what I'd do, I'd generally adapt to the situation, I suppose."
While this resident, thanks to support at Lancaster House, is confident of getting a job in the very near future and moving on, he's still at the forefront of the fight to save Lancaster House.
"This isn't just about me and those who currently live here, it's about the people who are going to come after us" he says "There's people being made homeless all the time, especially with the times we're in today."
Whether residents get alternative accommodation or not depends on need, and the system works by dividing people into priority and non-priority bands. Basically, if you don't have any local connections in Salford, you get sent back to your own local authority and it becomes their homeless problem. If you're Band C, single with no medical needs, you're non-priority – and most in Lancaster House fall into this category.
"A lot of people here are Band C and require a one bedroomed flat which could take anything from eight weeks to a year to sort out" says John Hadley "They're being pushed towards the private sector but the only thing they stand a chance of getting on housing benefit levels is a shared house. Which is, essentially, another house of multiple occupancy. Which is not good for other residents. It's what they're in now, only with support which is why they've been referred here. When we go, there will be no support left or links to this project."
And the closure isn't just about the residents either, as 14 staff, including John, will lose their jobs if the place shuts. Yet, despite that Salford Council decision to withdraw funding, John and his staff are sorting out urgent needs homeless people still being referred to Lancaster House.
"That is not the action of a council that can guarantee the safety and security of people's future accommodation" says John "If that was the case, HASS wouldn't be continuing to refer here, which they are doing and which they have to do because people can't find accommodation in Salford, especially not priority need."
David Allum, a resident of Lancaster House and representative of the service users, believes that Salford Council is playing a huge game of poker with people's lives…
"They're gambling with people's lives in the hope that we manage to keep this place open by alternative funding" he says "The owner can't fund it through his own pocket, and we've only got a couple of months to find funding which isn't going to happen. Even a year's extra funding will buy us time to become sustainable with alternative income."
David himself is one of those who fears for his future if Lancaster House closes. He came to Salford to get away from the problems that had made him homeless in the first place…
"HASS told me to go back to where I came from" he explains "I'm not blaming HASS, they're stuck in the middle, but Councillor Connor, when he made this decision said every resident who currently resides at Lancaster House shall be looked after and provided with alternative suitable accommodation.
"But HASS are telling us, the service users, that they have no suitable accommodation, that they can't re-house us" he adds "The fact of the matter is that Salford Council is making me homeless but Salford council can't re-house me."
John just shakes his head.
"I'm just putting together a booklet on people's stories and it's about whatever led them to this place" he explains "It used to be about how they're now receiving support, and have secured employment and got a property and `I can't wait to live my new life in Salford'. Now it's: `My future is uncertain'. All the good work will be undone in less than three weeks' time.
"I think the decision right the way through has been very narrow minded, and it's blatantly obvious that no-one has looked at the bigger picture" he adds "Where are these people going to go?"
Save Lancaster House Candlelit Vigil
Lancaster House, 7-11 Lancaster Road, M6 8AQ
Tuesday 13th September 8-10pm
Further details 789 0203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
See also past Salford Star articles on Lancaster House…
• Salford Council cash for MediaCityUK but not for homeless click here
* Salford Council Accused in Homeless Battle click here
* Secret Salford Council Summer of Cuts click here