Leighton Buzzard’s only homeless shelter is hitting back at “malicious” online comments made after Central Bedfordshire Council imposed a further cull of its overnight numbers.
The Black Horse shelter in North Street was told it must reduce the numbers staying overnight from nine to seven people, in order to comply with fire safety regulations.
The shelter relies heavily on housing benefit to help towards its £130,000 annual costs.
CBC has instructed tenants to fill in a licence agreement confirming they live at the Black Horse in order to receive housing benefit.
However, inaccurate claims have been spread online that tenants are being forced to pay £245 rent per week and threatened with eviction if they don’t sign the paperwork, with “highly paid co-ordinators” in charge.
But Leighton Linslade Homeless Service, who run the shelter, has stated that no-one has been evicted or threatened with eviction for not signing.
The shelter has just one paid member of staff, supported by a team of volunteers.
A Leighton Linslade Homeless Service spokesman said: “It is devastating to have the hard work that has been put in by a large number of volunteers to provide the only facility for homeless people in Leighton Buzzard publicly trashed by ill informed comments widely circulated on Facebook.
“These comments can only damage the interests of the charity and our ability to provide support to some of the most vulnerable persons in the town.
“I can only describe these comments as malicious”.
They added there was no reason not to sign the standard agreement, with no direct cost to residents due to most of the licence fee being paid through housing benefit.
The Black Horse shelter was founded by Leighton Linslade Homeless Service in the absence of any dedicated homeless service locally.
CBC later admitted it had not predicted homelessness would become a problem in the town.
In its early stages, the shelter housed up to 18 people each night, however this was halved down to nine people after CBC began to regulate it. This number has now again been reduced to seven.
Responding to comments made online, Cllr Amanda Dodwell said: “I have confirmation with the Black Horse that the current weekly rental charge is £137.93.
“Our revenue and benefits colleagues have confirmed that only £15.78 of this charge is ineligible (must be covered by the resident), as it includes services and food (2 meals a day). Unfortunately, the weekly rental is expected to increase this year but the evaluation is still under way by the Rent Office and I am, therefore, unable to confirm the new figures.”
A spokesman for Central Beds Council was unable to comment before our deadline.