Residents of Edward Street have claimed they have unearthed “firm evidence” that sex offenders and paedophiles will be among the former convicts accommodated in the £500,000 re-build of the hostel for the homeless.
Angry that the Simon Community is being “reticent in giving all the facts”, the residents have provided a print-out of the group’s web page, “which strongly suggests that sex offenders will be among the residents of the hostel”.
Planning permission has been given by the new ABC Council for the project, with the starting date believed to be early in 2016. And local residents close to the hostel – which opened in 1981 for the benefit of the general homeless – insist there have been seismic changes “which have been kept under wraps”.
A spokesperson said, “After a series of meetings, we eventually learned that ex-offenders will make up the 15 accommodated at the hostel. But having read the Simon Community’s website reports, it is evident that sex offenders could be among them. The problem is, Simon is being so secretive about everything.
“The website specifically states (March 31, 2014) that Simon Community ‘re-designated 21 Edward Street as a homeless facility for offenders only’, and it confirms co-operation with the prison service, the PSNI and the probation service.
“But the Simon Community refuses to inform us what type of ex-offenders are involved, even though there is a nearby pre-school nursery unit, a dancing school and youth organisations at night. We don’t know where they’ll be accommodated during the contract, although we believe houses in Edward Street will be used.
“We are considering a judicial inquiry, but that would be expensive and we have to have a legal issue on which to hang it.
“The former borough council promised us support. But when they were granted planning powers with the creation of the ABC Council, they pulled the rug from under us and gave planning approval. When it was simply a facility for the homeless, there were no problems – it was an integral part of this community. We are asking the Simon Community to simply move it elsewhere or revert to the original concept of homelessness.
“Information has been patchy, to say the least. We submitted a comprehensive objection to the planners and it was actually blacked out in places, like something from a totalitarian regime. All references to ex-offenders were obliterated.” (pictured below).
A statement from the Simon Community said, “We are a non-judgemental organisation, committed to working with anyone who finds themselves homeless. We provide a vital service to individuals and families that works for the benefit of the whole community.
“We work with Choice Housing Ireland Ltd, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Supporting People, Police Service for Northern Ireland and a range of community groups and organisations.
“The premises were developed to accommodate 15 people who find themselves homeless. Numbers are reduced to nine people on a temporary basis to allow for this refurbishment. The upgraded building will accommodate no more than 15 people at any one time. This represents no increase in numbers since the hostel was founded in 1981.”