Pioneering Hornsey Road Glass House Solidarity Shelter closes - but could reopen as permanent facility
PUBLISHED: 21:01 29 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:09 30 April 2019
The last guests at a pioneering Hornsey Road homeless shelter enjoyed a buffet breakfast before saying goodbye to the site and moving onto new accommodation this morning - but organisers say "this is just the beginning".
Over the past three months, a disused factory building was temporarily transformed into the Glass House Solidarity Shelter, offering about 50 of Islington and Camden's most vulnerable people a safe place to sleep and access to wrap-around support services.
But the shelter could yet return as a permanent facility as both the owners and Islington Council are open to the idea, the Gazette understands.
The project started when Housing Justice, a homelessness charity, teamed up with grassroots outreach agency Streets Kitchen and persuaded the building's owners, Fitzpatrick Developments, to let them use the space – myriad other organisations were also involved, including The Pilion Trust which provided food and support services on-site.
“It's like the end of a long-term relationship but it's only the start,” said an exhausted and emotional Jon Glackin this afternoon.
The Streets Kitchen founder added: “The bottom line is it saves lives. It gives people some space to have community and do what they need to do get to the next stage in their lives. Because, certainly, sleeping on the streets isn't the answer. With the amount of empty buildings it's a travesty they're not being used – and we have shown it can be done now.”
More than 200 volunteers gave a shift to renovate and maintain the shelter, which was also supported by Islington Council and received £25,000 from the Mayor of London, plus a £3,500 donation from the Hornsey Road Traders Association.
The temporary hostel has now closed but Mark Fitzpatrick, whose family own the building, is considering converting the site into a permanent shelter. He's even had an architect draw up plans and started preliminary discussions with Islington planning officers this afternoon.
“It all came from the fact we were talking to these guys,” Mark said, gesturing at Jon. “The community really pulled together and did their best and Streets Kitchen and Housing Justice have been instrumental.
“We've realised what the demand is and there isn't anywhere for a lot of these people to go. The council seems to be struggling for buildings to put people in so we had a quick chat with the architects and they said it's possible. It's an ideal site, particularly as we've proven it works here.”
The temporary shelter comfortably slept 16 or 17 people at any given time, and community support worker Sam Hadfield told the Gazette these people's lives had been changed for the better through their time at the shelter.
Sam, whose played a key role in the creation and day-to-day life at the shelter, said: “I remember there was one person who suffered from mental heath and the first day he came here he couldn't even speak. He was just standing there rocking. He was frightened.
“In the last few nights we had a karaoke night. He was singing Bob Marley on the karaoke. He was feeling safe. They could come out of themselves a bit and not worry about everything they were going through – he was one of them.”
Sam, who also supports homeless young people in Islington through Caris Boxing Club, added: “It's a little bit of history that we have all worked together on and it's not the end, it's the start. So be prepared. Let's get ready. Let's find the next building.”
Islington's housing boss Cllr Diarmaid Ward said: “I'm very sad to see the end of the Glasshouse Soldarity Shelter. Cllr Anjna Khurana and I, along with our service director for housing needs, held a surgery there on Friday.
“The shelter was a great combined effort from some of Islington's best charities and grassroots organisations. It shows what can be achieved when the whole community pulls together.
“But this is not the end – let's make this the first of many successful collaborations.
“I know that Fitzpatrick Team Developments have got further ambitions for the building, possibly around a more permanent shelter in the building, and are currently talking to Islington's planning team. I look forward to hearing more about this idea.”