Council is urged to rethink vital service

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A volunteer is urging a council to rethink its policy on emergency accommodation for homeless people after an incident on Christmas day.

Businessman Simon De-Laat, from Hargrave, paid for a homeless pair to spend two nights in a Bury St Edmunds hotel after Gatehouse volunteers became frustrated by ‘red tape’ when trying to secure them a bed.

Fiona Watts, a volunteer at the charity’s Christmas dinner, who refused to let the men sleep in a shop doorway in the town, said the current policy, which requires referrals and would only offer the pair emergency provision if the temperature had dropped to zero or below for three consecutive nights, was not ‘fit-for-purpose.’

She said: “The fact is that we were ringing around for three hours. We felt absolutely exhausted and demoralised. We were shocked by the lack of compassion, the indifference and hostility we faced.”

The men were offered accommodation in Cambridge and Colchester but Miss Watts said it was ‘ridiculous’ to expect people with no money to make journeys to other counties.

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which has statutory responsibility for dealing with homelessness, said: “At 5pm on Christmas Day the duty officer for homelessness dealt with a request for accommodation for two men. Accommodation is allocated according to need. These young single men were directed to the nearest night shelter and advised to come into the council offices on Thursday, for their housing options to be dealt with in detail.”

Philip Sullivan, director of operations at Havebury Housing Partnership, said Tayfen House provided accommodation and support for nineteen homeless individuals, and operated emergency cold weather provision in partnership with the council’s housing options team, who made referrals when the temperature was zero or below for three consecutive nights.

He said: “The facilities mean that demand for Tayfen House is always very high and it is currently fully occupied.”