Leighton Linslade Homeless Service has no plans to reinstate its shelter after pandemic as council pledges long-term help to those on the streets

Charity says it would be "reckless" to keep it open with falling numbers as it moves to quash 'malicious' social media rumours

Friday, 26th March 2021, 1:20 pm
Updated Friday, 26th March 2021, 3:21 pm

The Leighton Linslade Homeless Service says it would have been "reckless" to keep the shelter open and has provided the LBO with further details about the closure of its shelter in order to quash damaging rumours on social media.

At the beginning of March it was announced that the charity's homeless shelter at the Black Horse, North Street, was to close because it was no longer cost effective to run. This was due to Central Bedfordshire Council providing the homeless with accommodation thanks to increased funding from central government (an initiative brought about by the pandemic).

However, the charity's chairman of trustees, James Fairbairn, has answered further questions from the LBO in order to combat "malicious" rumours on social media.

The Black Horse, North Street.

In particular, Mr Fairbairn wishes readers to know that the decision to close the shelter does not involve any change to the charity's objects as registered with the Charity Commission, and that the charity does not own the Black Horse, and is not therefore making any sort of capital profit.

James Fairbairn, chairman of trustees for Leighton Linslade Homeless Service, told the LBO: said: "There has been a considerable amount of ill-informed comment on social media regarding the closure of the homeless shelter operated by LLHS. Some of this borders on the malicious and unfortunately this climate of disinformation can be unsettling. This charity is therefore very happy to have the opportunity to correct any misconceptions.

"As originally explained, we had to close the shelter because there was a drop in the number of homeless persons requiring supported accommodation. The drop in demand is caused by the local authority (CBC) providing accommodation. 12 months ago we were operating as a night shelter accommodating up to 12 guests but the only way we could comply with Covid rules was to provide supported accommodation, providing 24 hour support for a maximum of seven guests.

"The government's 'Everybody In' campaign required local authorities to provide accommodation for homeless people - which CBC did very effectively. When the number of guests at Black Horse House fell to three in December, we had to review the situation. Needless to say the last three have since been accommodated by CBC. Regrettably, keeping the shelter open for a diminishing number of residents would rapidly have led to the insolvency of the charity and would have amounted to a reckless disregard of the charity trustees' fiduciary duties to properly manage the charity's financial affairs.

"As part of the decision making process the trustees and staff did consider whether the fall in demand was a temporary circumstances or an indication of a long term trend. Before making the decision we consulted the local authority and specifically considered whether the present arrangements might continue only for a short time. We are told that the authorities are planning for the long term.

"There is no reason to doubt that and clearly one cannot keep the shelter open at a cost of around £190,000 per year on the off chance that this information is wrong. We do of course accept that circumstances might in the future change and there may at some time be a role for supported accommodation. Were that to happen it would be possible to replicate the supported accommodation service. We would of course then look to reinstating the service.

"Contrary to the suggestion made by one commentator, the decision to close the shelter does not involve any change to the charity's objects as registered with the charity commission. The charity was established to provide a range of charitable services. In any event, we did of course inform the Charity Commission in advance of our decision to revise our method of operation and they raised no concerns over this.

"Restarting the hostel of course depends on the availability of suitable premises. The charity does not own the Black Horse (and is not therefore making any sort of capital profit from closure as one Tweeter suggests). At present, through the generosity of our landlord we continue to operate the Leighton Linslade Community Foodbank, as Leighton Linslade Homeless Service has been doing since 2012. The premises may not be available to us long term.

"The charity still has cash resources available which it is using to operate the foodbank. We continue to look to other ways in which the local community can be supported and are considering some proposals. Other than the foodbank, (which has been the focus of our attention for now) we do not yet have any agreed projects in hand. We will of course update you on any new projects that we launch."

Commenting on the shelter's closure, and the council's future provision for the homeless, a Central Bedfordshire Council, spokesman said: “The support that Leighton Linslade Homeless Service (LLHS) has offered has been tremendous. They have been instrumental in supporting some of our most vulnerable residents and providing a haven for those affected by homelessness. The professionalism, support, empathy, and positive contributions made by the service, the trustees, the staff, and volunteers cannot be understated.

“We are optimistic that the LLHS will take time to consider their future role and look to repurpose and redesign how they work with our residents to continue to be as effective as they have been over the last 15 years. Senior officers from the council have been in regular contact with both the trustees and the manager of the night shelter and have provided practical support and guidance.

“The LLHS trustees made the decision to close the night shelter following a reduction in demand. Within Central Bedfordshire 96 individuals who were either rough sleeping or at risk of rough sleeping have been offered accommodation since the 23 March 2020. During this same period, the number of people approaching the Black Horse night shelter has declined, until only three individuals were using the service at the beginning of March 2021. The Council worked with the night shelter to support each of these three individuals into alternative accommodation before it closed, and our Housing Service is continuing to work with them to find long term suitable permanent homes.”

“In Central Bedfordshire every individual who rough sleeps or who is at risk of rough sleeping is offered accommodation, is provided with provisions and support to access benefits, health services and then when they are ready are supported into long term accommodation. The council have transitional accommodation units and supported housing across all of the main towns in Central Bedfordshire and is working to increase accommodation options available to all households affected by homelessness."