Homeless people could take refuge from the cold weather this winter by seeking shelter in a Stoke-on-Trent City Council-owned building.
Up to 18 beds could be made available at the Regent Centre in Hanley to ensure that rough sleepers have a place to go to at night. People staying there would receive a hot evening meal and breakfast, and would have access to advice, guidance and referral on to other agencies to help them find more sustainable housing.
Cabinet members will be asked to vote on whether to turn part of the building on Regent Road into a temporary homeless shelter at a meeting on Tuesday, January 19.
It would be known as The Macari Centre, following on from the involvement of former Stoke City manager Lou Macari in the project.
If the plans are given the go-ahead, the centre will be officially opened by Lou at the beginning of February on a two-month trial period, as an enhancement to existing provision for homeless people. Led by the city council, the project is being backed by a number of voluntary and faith sector organisations who already support the homeless.
“I’m very pleased the centre is set to open soon and I would like to thank the city council for responding to the need and acting as quickly as possible.
“I have to emphasise this is not all about me. If the plans are approved, the centre will be opened because of the time and efforts of a lot of people who are concerned for the homeless, the vast majority of them being volunteers. No-one should be sleeping on the streets or under bridges in this day and age. The very least anyone should have is a roof over their head.”
The centre will cost approximately £150,000 to refurbish and run and will be funded through contingency funds.
Councillor Dave Conway, leader of the city council, said:
“This is a very emotive and complex subject. There is a perception in the city that homelessness is on the increase. The official figure for the number of rough sleepers in Stoke-on-Trent is 14, but we have had reports from members of the public and volunteer organisations that this number is significantly higher.
“By opening up the shelter we will be able to assess the situation. At the end of this project we will evaluate it and see where we go from there. Doing nothing is not an option.
“On behalf of all concerned, I would like to thank our council officers, Lou Macari and others who have pulled together and worked hard to get this project up and running as soon as practically possible. It has been a great team effort and particular praise should go to Sharon Taaffe, who is our head of health improvement.”
Councillor Ann James, cabinet member for health and social care, added:
“There is currently no direct access to an overnight shelter in the city centre – access to current hostel provision is by referral only. This would be a temporary measure to ensure that all rough sleepers have somewhere they can go overnight to escape the cold weather.”
Councillor Ruth Rosenau started a petition calling on the authority to provide shelter after council buildings in Manchester were used to accommodate those sleeping on the streets. She said:
“The opening of The Macari Centre is essential to the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable in our city. A tremendous amount of time and effort has been allocated to this initiative and I’m grateful for the hard work given by many to ensure this facility can become operational.
“This will show our city’s true, caring, humanitarian side. The interest that has been shown and the offers of help that have come forward have been inspiring.
“This centre will show that Stoke-on-Trent takes responsibility for those unfortunate enough to have lost their homes. It’s a sad reflection that homelessness is an issue in any area, but Stoke-on-Trent can say that by working with many partners we are addressing this and responding to the many who raised concerns about residents of our city who live with no housing provision.”
The refurbishment of the centre is being carried out by Kier, with the company offering to waive all labour-associated costs for the project.