Night shelter set to reopen next month – but council defends decision not to offer funding this year

Lynn’s night shelter will reopen next month despite worries over its future – although West Norfolk Council has been forced to defend its decision not to offer any funding this year.

It has been confirmed that the night shelter, after a month’s delay, will reopen on November 1 despite missing out on thousands of pounds in funding from the Government.

It was revealed last week that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) rejected an application for £100,000 from its Night Shelter Transformation Fund.

Lynn’s night shelter will open again on November 1 – but its co-ordinator is ‘surprised’ at not being offered funding by West Norfolk Council
Lynn’s night shelter will open again on November 1 – but its co-ordinator is ‘surprised’ at not being offered funding by West Norfolk Council

But night shelter co-ordinators have now praised the “warm response” to a crowdfunding appeal which has raised much-needed cash for the charity – as well as the Diocese of Norwich, landlord of the St John’s House premises, for re-negotiating the terms of the charity’s lease on the building.

However, they have also expressed “surprise” at West Norfolk Council’s decision not to provide any funding to the shelter this year.

Lucy McKetterick, the shelter’s co-ordinator, has claimed that the borough council has yet to respond to queries on “what they need to see from the night shelter in order for funding to be offered”.

This comes despite the council confirming last week that it believes the shelter does not have a plan for “operating sustainably that reflects our requirements” – such as by meeting the prevailing needs of rough sleepers in the borough.

The authority also highlighted the shelter’s reliance on continued grants from the Government’s Night Shelter Transformation Fund, even though this is intended to be a one-off payment.

A spokesperson previously said the council would be looking for the shelter to collaborate with the authority and its partners to ensure that those being accommodated are “actually rough sleepers or threatened with rough sleeping”.

Officials would also be asked to develop an operating model that is “financially sustainable and makes effective use of the key stream of public subsidy available for accommodation costs”, as well as adopt a service that recognises the changes to rough sleeping in the area and supports the “long-term prevention of rough sleeping in the first place”.

However, Ms McKetterick said: “We have been very sorry to hear from the borough council that for the first time this year they are unable to offer us a contribution to the costs of providing emergency accommodation for people experiencing homelessness in West Norfolk.

“We have been surprised by this decision as communications from their team earlier in the autumn seemed to be encouraging. We have asked them to set out for us what they need to see from the night shelter in order for funding to be offered but at the time of writing we have not received a response.

“We recognise that homelessness charities and local authorities will not always agree on who should receive support – local authorities are bound by legislation on who can benefit from public funds, and how, whereas a charity has the freedom to support and accommodate both people eligible for local authority help and those who fall between the cracks.

“It is so important however that we work together because we are part of the same community and the people who come to stay at the night shelter – all of whom are homeless with nowhere else safe to stay that night – need their local council’s support.

“We hope that our council will feel able to change their decision in the very near future and offer us financial help so that we can continue to stay open this winter and serve the needs of our community into 2024.”

A spokesperson for West Norfolk Council said: “The borough council works with, and funds, a range of providers to help it meet its responsibilities to support homeless people and those at risk of rough sleeping.

“These providers support the council in delivering its homelessness and rough sleeping strategy, which has helped us to move from a position of having more than 40 rough sleepers in Lynn on any given night seven years ago, to now having between zero and three on any given night.

“The night shelter has been an important part of that work but the environment in which we all operate has changed. To adapt to this changed environment, our focus has now moved to a prevention approach, which encompasses trying to prevent rough sleeping happening in the first place, and preventing people from returning to rough sleeping.

“Whilst fully respecting the night shelter’s independence as a charity, we have encouraged its management and trustees to adapt its model and move to a financially sustainable position. We have been in extensive dialogue with them about this for around 18 months, which has included training and offers of support from independent experts including DLUHC and Housing Justice.

“We can only use public money to fund services that best meet the identified needs of local people (as per the aims of our homelessness and rough sleeping strategy) so we have not been able to support their funding request at this time.

“However, there remains an opportunity for them to engage and should they wish to consider responding to the advice given, adapting and making the necessary substantial changes, we will of course be happy to consider future funding requests.”

Paul Le Serve, chair of trustees at the Lynn Night Shelter, said: “It is absolutely fantastic that we have made the decision to open the night shelter in November.

“The worry of not knowing what was happening to the guests who would have been sleeping in our beds during October has given us a lot of concern and soul searching.

“I would like to thank all of our staff, and our trustees, for their support in what has been a very difficult October. We cannot wait for the front door to open again.”