Night shelter could welcome homeless guests 24/7 and all year round

A night shelter in Lynn could have its provision extended with year-round, 24/7 accommodation for homeless people.

King’s Lynn Night Shelter, based at St John’s House on Blackfriars Road, has submitted plans to West Norfolk Council to change the building’s use from a winter night shelter, with no proposed development or works required.

In a document on the council’s planning portal, the shelter’s co-ordinator Lucy McKitterick said that the trustees “hope that as soon as funding permits to be open year-round to provide a consistent service for the needs of some of the most vulnerable individuals in the borough”.

Lynn’s Night Shelter at the former St John’s Vicarage building
Lynn’s Night Shelter at the former St John’s Vicarage building

Ms McKitterick said the night shelter team first applied to change the use of the former St John’s Vicarage in the spring of 2020, as they hoped to take on a lease of the building from the Diocese of Norwich to use as a night shelter for adults in West Norfolk who were homeless.

“At the time of the application we assumed, perhaps like most of the world, that the Covid pandemic would be brief, and that when we opened to our service users in the autumn of 2020 we would be operating a ‘night shelter’ with overnight accommodation only, along the same lines as we had done in our former premises before the arrival of Covid,” she added.

But the pandemic lasted longer than initially expected and in the autumn of 2020, the Government issued guidance which required night shelter accommodation to be available to service users 24 hours a day.

“We were pleased to comply with this, not least because our previous experience of providing overnight (only) accommodation had often left us concerned for the welfare needs of individuals whom we accommodated overnight and turned out onto the street at 9am each morning in all weathers,” Ms McKitterick said.

“It became apparent to us that 24-hour accommodation had clear benefits to the needs of the vulnerable adults we were caring for, particularly for those with mental or physical health needs, or who were pregnant, or vulnerable to exploitation on the street,or who might be more easily drawn into criminal activity if they had nowhere to go ‘home’ for ten hours each day.”

After consultations, the night shelter team said it became “fully committed to continuing to provide 24-hour accommodation for our service users as a permanent change in our operation”.

Last year, they also extended their months of operation so the shelter is open for nine months of the year, rather than just the “winter” – and once funding allows, it is hoped it will be open all year round.

“In submitting this application, we are not proposing any material change to the site or proposing a different model of operation from how we have in fact been operating for the last three years, first by necessity in the pandemic and then by choice in accordance with Government advice,” Ms McKitterick added.

In a comment from Norfolk Police’s Designing Out Crime officer Penny Turner, West Norfolk Council’s planning officers have been asked to consider incorporating the “correct security measures” to “ensure that this development is a safe environment and a desirable amenity”.

One of the measures is “appropriate boundary treatment to control access and reduce pedestrian permeability around the Vicarage for the protection of the shelter and users”.

The other asks for “access control in a way that staff and volunteers are aware of who is residing and who may not be invited; and that there are secure areas, be it reception, staff room or lockers available for personal belongings for staff/volunteers and guests”.

The application currently has a determination deadline of November 15, 2023.