The Narrowgate Night Shelter in Salford, which provided emergency beds for up to 28 people a night, closed this week after a judgement in Wales meant that the shelter no longer qualifies as someone's home under housing benefit rules.
The benefit was the Shelter's main source of income, signed over by those who used the shelter and paid by Salford Council which then claimed the money back from central government.
Under the new ruling housing benefit has been stopped for these people as the shelter, being an emergency facility, cannot guarantee a dwelling for a 24 hour period, nor guarantee a bed the following night. The Council can no longer claim back the benefits and has stopped paying Narrowgate, forcing it to close.
However, Blackpool Council last week chose to keep funding its homeless shelter while it looks into the suspension of benefits and possible reviews of the judgement…
"It is important that the existing night shelters are sufficiently funded to allow them to continue to carry out their good work" said Councillor Gillian Campbell, Blackpool's Cabinet member for Housing and Public Protection "We are aware of the very recent judicial decision and are now looking at its implications, both for the operation of the shelters and for their long-term viability.
"This is a decision which may be subject to review and will, no doubt, have repercussions across the country" she added "In the meantime we will be supporting the night shelters as much as we can, as withdrawing support for homeless people who have fallen on hard times is clearly contrary to our values."
Unlike Blackpool, however, a Salford Council spokesperson told the Salford Star that while it praised the work of the Narrowgate Night Shelter, "This is a legally binding ruling which applies to all councils and we must obey the law. We are exploring options with the charity and are keeping a careful eye out for any increase in rough sleepers."
While Salford Council `obeys' the ruling, up to 28 homeless people, men and women, will now possibly be sleeping rough in the city, perhaps almost trebling the official numbers which were previously around ten (see previous Salford Star article – click here and click here). Five staff at Narrowgate have also been made redundant.
"You could argue that Salford Council is blameless as it has just enforced a point of law" says Narrowgate's manager, Phil Brown "but it has not shown compassion in enforcing the judgement. They could have tried, perhaps, to find a way around it."
He adds that there is anecdotal evidence already of people who formerly used the shelter getting into difficulties. One man waited for six hours in a Council office trying to appeal the decision, while the Government's homeless initiative, No Second Night Out, has already let down another former shelter user who waited outside McDonald's for eight hours for someone to turn up, which they never did.
"Indeed" says Phil Brown "Narrowgate received homeless people who had been evicted from the local No Second Night Out scheme, so an alternative, like Narrowgate, is desperately needed."
In the last three years, 135 organisations across the city have referred 2,200 people to Narrowgate for emergency overnight help. Of these, over 865 have gone on to find more permanent accommodation.
"How can the Government and the law makers allow the closure of a shelter like this to happen when, on the surface, they are saying they want to help homeless people?" asks Phil "We gave these people an evening meal, some quality sleep and a morning breakfast, which helped them to engage with agencies, turn up for appointments and find solutions to their problems. These people are now on the streets, hidden again, and fighting for survival."
The closure of Narrowgate follows the closure of Royal Court wet house earlier this year (see here) and withdrawal of funding from Lancaster House in 2011 (see here). As the affects of the Bedroom Tax and Universal Credits kick in, homelessness in Salford is only expected to grow (see here).
As Narrowgate is part of Manchester City Mission, a Christian organisation, it can't appeal to the general public for funds, however, Phil Brown explains that "if individuals, companies or organisations would like to explore ways of assisting us to provide emergency help and longer term hope for homeless people, I would be very happy to talk to you."
In the meantime, it is hoped that Salford City Council will have a change of heart, and, like Blackpool Council, fill the funding deficit, rather than continue with its compassion deficit.
For further details on the closure of Narrowgate and the work of Manchester City Mission click here