Chelmsford homeless shelter green light sparks anti-social behaviour concerns

Residents say they are “unconvinced” that anti-social behaviour will not return to their street – after Chelmsford City Council agreed that a former hostel for young offenders should be used as a homeless person’s shelter.

Chelmsford City Council has given permission for the seven-bed red brick building at 2A Coval Avenue to be used as a shelter for up to 50 to 70 homeless people a year – managed by Chess – Chelmsford’s main homeless charity. It had previously been used as a Mother & Baby Unit and in 2018 as a hostel for young offenders.

Chess say the proposed use is critical to meeting the needs of rough sleepers and single homeless persons in Chelmsford – in both the short and long term.

With a newly rising need of between 50 and 70 single homeless households per annum, who would have no alternative but to sleep rough if a safe alternative is not made available, the supported accommodation is essential, Chess says.

However, the proposal has generated a significant amount of local objections after a previous use of the building, in breach of planning restrictions, was a housing scheme for young people with reduced support.

It was commissioned by Essex County Council and operated by Nacro, significant issues of crime and anti‐social behaviour were generated. Reports included lewd behaviour from the windows, threats to several neighbours, fireworks let off on a number of occasions and times and regular bonfires in the garden.

Neighbours also reported regular drug dealing and drug use and visits from police and fire brigade.

Following discussions between Nacro, local residents and Chelmsford City Council, Nacro issued eviction notices on the residents of the property and the property was subsequently vacated in 2018. However residents say they are not convinced that these issues will not return.

Ian Coward, representative of 59 residents who have signed letters of objection, said: “No-one should have to live with this and we have no confidence in the assertion that this will be any different. There is no evidence to suggest that all will be fine.”

He added: “We’re not making assumptions and we are not making generalisations – we have read everything in detail but we are not convinced.

“This is simply the wrong site for this use. We have objections from 59 local residents who are really concerned about how this is going to impact on their lives.”

Rob Sagg, CEO of Chess, which has been in Chelmsford for 22 years, said each service user is given an allocated support worker who will work with them on accessing other services.

Each resident would be signed up to a licence agreement with Chess, which would include signing up to their code of conduct.

Mr Sagg said: “The clients who live here will have not come directly from the street. They will have been assessed and engaged with their support worker addressing any areas of concern prior to move into any Chess move-on accommodation.

“Our work with the local community is vitally important to us and we pride ourselves in delivering a good service to the homeless, our community and to those who live in the neighbourhood.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter