Outrage over hostel plan for offenders

The building to be demolished
The building to be demolished

Plans to extend hostel accommodation for the homeless and offenders in Edward Street have been greeted with outrage from residents.

The Planning Service has approved the demolition of the existing hostel next door to the PSNI station and proposals to replace it with brand new accommodation.

There are plans to open two hostels while building work is carried out on the main premises. The charities running it insist that when the project is finished only two hostels will remain in use.

However, residents and business people fear there could be up to three hostels in the street that as many as 30 ex-offenders will be accommodated within a small area.

“They are simply being dumped on our doorstep,” claimed the residents.

The Simon Community, which is co-managing the accommodation, insists there are no plans to increase overall bed numbers in the main hostel and that a second hostel will be a five-bedroom property for homeless people.

A residents’ spokesman said, “We are given a minimum of information. The hostels are owned and administrated by a mixture of the Simon Community, the Open Door Housing Association and Oaklee Trinity.

“They won’t tell us what type of ex-prisoners are being accommodated, and any meetings we have had have ended in confusion.”

Residents say the accommodation will be “much too concentrated, especially as there is a children’s dancing school, plus a nursery unit, in the immediate vicinity”.

The spokesperson added, “Up until two or three years ago, number 21 was simply known as ‘Edward Street Hostel’ and accommodated general homeless people who were down on their luck for various domestic and social reasons. It was never any trouble.

“But two or three years ago things changed. We have found hypodermic needles, there have been noisy barbecues, and we’ve had to lock off a gateway that was permanently open.

“There have been problems of drinking and drugs, rows in the street, and neighbours not being able to sleep at night. We did call in the police, but it took an age to have anything sorted out. The authorities have told us they are responsible for their residents only when they are inside the hostels.”

They also have a four-page list of planning objections, ranging from alleged inaccurate applications to flawed design, over-development of the site and planning policies, as well as traffic schemes and access.

The Simon Community NI said they and Oaklee Trinity have engaged in a “public consultation process” with a view to addressing “concerns and questions regarding this building work”.

“Whilst the rebuild is under way, Simon Community NI has decided to use the two small properties in Edward Street to continue the service during the redevelopment and to ensure there is no break in accommodation for the people who are currently homeless. This means the clients and staff in the main hostel will be moved into the two smaller houses until the building work is completed and is a temporary relocation.

“Once the main building is finished, it will house 15 people who are homeless and from an offending background in partnership with Probation Board Northern Ireland. This represents no increase in the original bed numbers. The other house will remain as a five bed property for homeless people not requiring supervision. There are no plans to make the third house into hostel accommodation.”