Row continues over St Albans homeless centre proposal

St Claire's nursing home on Church Crescent

St Claire's nursing home on Church Crescent - Credit: Archant

Division in the community over a proposal to accommodate homeless people in a former care home in St Albans city centre continues, with a resident claiming it is a “half-baked idea” and a social experiment.

There has again been debate on St Albans district council’s support for Hightown Praetorian and Churches Housing Association’s bid to turn St Claire’s in Church Crescent into temporary accommodation.

Struggling to cope with providing for the increasing tide of homeless people because of inadequate housing stock, the council has promised the association a £500,000 grant should its efforts to convert St Claire’s to 10 self-contained units be successful.

But that deal has reignited anger among some locals, who fear incomers will bring anti-social behaviour to the neighbourhood.

Residents joined councillors for a wide-ranging discussion on the controversial scheme at a scrutiny committee meeting last Wednesday (8) which stretched over one-and-a-half-hours.

Speaking on behalf of frustrated residents, Nigel Gale demanded “proper” consultation and dismissed the proposal as a social experiment and half-baked idea.

In a report he submitted to the committee Nigel said: “Residents remain concerned that the strength and volume of expressed views seem to be disregarded and questions go unanswered.”

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Key fears related to anti-social behaviour, transience, “undefined admission criteria and poor supervision” of hostel residents.

His report added: “The unacceptable presumption seems to be that it is for the neighbourhood to document disturbances, log call-outs, identify miscreants and complain.

“This is not a burden that should be placed on neighbours.”

Nigel suggested alternatives including selling St Claire’s to a private developer for £980,000, so it could be converted into family apartments.

Cllr Teresa Heritage said it was clear that there was not enough information about who exactly would live at the hostel.

She added: “When we say homeless [images of] a tramp living on the street, drinking meths, that horrible picture you see on the news – that is what is conjured up in people’s minds.

“What causes homelessness?”

The council’s strategic housing manager David Reavill replied that people could find themselves suddenly homeless after relationship breakdowns and parental eviction.

Cllr Richard Curthoys asked whether the council risked “landing us with a massive financial albatross” given its commitment to give Hightown a £500,000 capital grant and an additional £650,000 over ten years.

He was told the in-principle grant would be used for refurbishment and £65,000 a year would pay staff costs.

The committee asked for further reports to answer councillors’ and residents’ questions.