Hornsey Road Solidarity Shelter: ‘Unique pilot’ for converting empty buildings into hostels launches
- Credit: Archant
A temporary homeless shelter set to open in Hornsey Road next week is a “unique pilot” mapping out how empty commercial buildings can be used to tackle London’s street sleeping crisis.
A coalition of grass roots outreach groups, charities and community volunteers have turned a “derelict” warehouse building into kitted-out homeless shelter in just three weeks – and it’s due to open on Monday.
The Hornsey Road site, which could be called either the Solidarity Centre or the Glasshouse, will comfortably sleep 15 or 16 people, with space to accommodate up to 50 sleepers during Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP): activated by the Greater London Authority when temperatures of 0C are forecast.
“We are trying to create a simple model that we can replicate everywhere,” said Jon Glackin, founder of grass roots homeless outreach group Streets Kitchen.
“This is a unique pilot and we have got the wrap-around services to help us – hospitality is going to be key here, as we’re creating a safe, respectful environment.
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“It’s overwhelming to see all the people from the community coming out to help us – their engagement is key.
“This is everybody on the same side coming together in solidarity and Streets Fest [a festival in Finsbury Park in August] helped.
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“There are thousands of empty buildings in London – it’s about showing councils what we can do with them.”
The “backbone” of the project is a Christian charity called Housing Justice, which has negotiated with the building’s freeholder, Mark Fitzpatrick, gaining his blessing for the empty site to be used as an emergency shelter until “at least the end of March”.
It’s reported the building will eventually be converted into flats.
Housing Justice is acting as an “honest broker” for the shelter, helping grass roots groups like Streets Kitchen get funding from the business community.
It also provides accreditation to shelters, signposting to other groups that they are of a certain standard.
The centre will work on an invite-only basis and organisers say there will be no “clinical assessments” in order to gain admission, which happens in some hostels, as these are “traumatic” and “entrench people in homeless identity”.
“We have a massive problem in Islington with homelessness,” said Sam Hadfield, 55, a community support worker who runs Caris Islington, a boxing club supporting young homeless people.
“That’s why we’re hoping to have it open for Monday so we can bring people off the streets. It’s just turned out for the perfect time of getting people out of the cold.
“A lot of the people who have come in to do these repairs are on programmes themselves, it’s people in recovery and ex-offenders all coming down here to help.”
And he joked: “Rich men, poor men, beggar men and thieves have come together to make this happen.”
The hostel has been built by community solidarity: Travis Perkins donated kitchen units, which Sam fitted; and more than 200 people “given a shift” to paint the walls, repair the roof, sweep the floor and fit the electrics.
Even an outside “shower box” with two wash units was donated.
And there has been a steady flow of people donating furniture and there are beds are being delivered this week.
These will be a mix of “pod beds”, so people can have their own private space, and communal sleeping areas.
Helen Froggatt, the chair of governors at St Aidan’s Primary School (where Sam also works), in Albany Road, was volunteering at the shelter with her husband and three young children on Sunday.
“Sam put out a Facebook post asking people to come and help out,” she said.
“So we brought the kids down and one of them made a cake.
“I think what Sam does for the broader community is really brilliant.
“Without people like him stuff like this wouldn’t get off the ground”.
Her kids were quick to grab brooms and start helping out.
It was a “lovely sight”, but children won’t be allowed in once the shelter opens.
Charlotte Keith, 37, of Highbury New Park, suffers from mental health problems and says volunteering at the centre is helping her recovery.
“In the summer I had a massive mental health break down,” she said. “I lost my job and everything.
“But I’ve been bringing people from the recovery group to help.
“This is a huge thing for me as it’s something positive to work on.
“This is a wonderful way we can all get together and not be on our own because it’s communication and contact that people crave and need.
“We are helping others and helping ourselves in the process – this is what a community can do with empty properties.”
The shelter is also being supported by charities such as Shelter, Groundswell and Street Vet.
The Department for Work and Pensions is also said to have expressed an interest.
Islington and Camden councils have both offered support, too.
“We are definitely a big supporter of this,” said Islington’s housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward.
“They [Streets Kitchen] have done some great work in the borough over the last few years.”
The Pilion Trust charity is being brought in to help run the day-to-day services at the hostel.