26 January 2006

Families face life on the street as hostel closes


by Francesca Ryan
& Damian McCarney

Up to 20 families are facing life on the street after it emerged that Laburnum Hostel in Twinbrook, which caters for homeless people, is facing possible closure.

The charity which runs the hostel on behalf of the Housing Executive, the Novas Group, plans to pull the plug on a number of sheltered accommodation hostels across the North as early as March 31.

The move has been slammed by Sinn Féin's Michael Ferguson who is concerned that the decision could affect the homeless using the Twinbrook premises.

“It is not acceptable for the Housing Executive to allow this hostel to close or for the staff to lose their jobs just because of their own poor judgement in employing a private company to do what they should be doing themselves, and that is providing temporary accommodation for the homel
ess and supporting the accommodation with professional staff.”

Sinn Féin have made representations to the British government requesting that the Housing Executive have full responsibility for meeting housing need, and building and managing housing stock because the private sector do not have either the commitment or the expertise.

“The homeless people in Laburnum Hostel all come from the West Belfast area, their families are all in West Belfast and they should not be dumped on the streets or sent out of West Belfast.

“The Housing Executive should immediately take responsibility for keeping the hostel open and protecting the staff in post because they are the professionals trained to do the job,” said Cllr Ferguson.

Councillor Ferguson’s comments were echoed by party colleague, Councillor Fra McCann, who will be meeting with the Housing Executive’s Chief Executive as a matter of urgency on the issue.

“It was with some alarm that I learnt from my colleague that the hostel could close and staff lose their jobs,” said Cllr McCann.

“This is unacceptable given the huge levels of homeless in West Belfast. To close this facility and lose good trained staff would be poor management indeed.”

UNISON organiser, Dessie Donnelly, has called on the Housing Executive to take action to save jobs.

“This is obviously very concerning for our members,” he said.

“What UNISON members need are assurances that the essential services being provided to families in need, and the jobs that keep these services going, will be protected and sustained.

“If it is not possible, due to time constraints, to secure a new long-term managing agent then the Housing Executive should either find a temporary agent to take over during the interim period or temporarily take over the running of the services themselves.

“Our members need answers and they need action by the Housing Executive. As it stands currently, we don’t seem to be getting either.”

A Housing Executive spokesperson told the Andersonstown News that the Executive is committed to retaining the services.

“The Housing Executive is committed to ensuring that these services, currently provided through the Novas Group at a number of locations in Northern Ireland, are maintained. The Housing Executive is in discussion with other agencies to ensure that this is the case."

Laburnum Hostel consists of 20 flats housing families comprising of upwards of 50 vulnerable people and employs six people.

Journalist:: Francesca Ryan

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