A charity has claimed that a “campaign of fear” resulting from a passionate planning saga by Yeovil led to residents of local homeless shelters being “verbally abused and filmed” by members of the public.
The Bournemouth Churches Housing Association (BCHA) boss revealed to Somerset Live that he believes local outcry surrounding a proposed planning for a new 39-room homeless shelter in Yeovil has led to residents of existing homeless shelters in the town being targeted by members of a action group formed to oppose the plans.
The saga revolves around a controversial planning request to change the use of Acacia Lodge on Hendford Hill from a care home to a homeless shelter, with plans to move residents from Pathways – a facility for existing homeless from Newton Road – to the proposed new shelter.
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The planning application attracted 659 public comments, 649 of which are objections, and led to around 165 people attending a recent town council meeting where local councilors objected to the plans.
A final decision will be made by South Somerset District Council at a date yet to be confirmed.
Residents of the Hendford area, many of whom have joined a local action group called Hands Off Hendford Hill, believe the proposed facility will lead to increased crime and anti-social behavior in the area.
But Martin Hancock, chief executive of BCHA, said he believed the group was behind a “campaign of fear” that directly led residents of the current Pathways homeless shelter to be ” verbally abused and filmed” by members of the public.
Hands Off Hendford Hill “strongly condemned the alleged abuse and harassment of all Pathways residents”, and a spokesperson added, “no one should feel threatened or fear being attacked in public”.
Homeless shelter residents targeted, charity boss says
In a statement, Mr Hancock said: “The fear of crime rhetoric has blown out of proportion to harmful proportions and is sadly already happening in the Hendford Hill area too.
“Residents of Local Pathways have recently been targeted in this fear campaign with verbal abuse when leaving the property, as well as having members of the public photographed and filmed.
“It is simply unfair and factually wrong to blame all crimes in Yeovil on people using the Pathways service, as well as harming the mental health and general well-being of residents.”
A spokesperson for the charity later added that it was “aware of incidents where residents of Pathways have been photographed and verbally assaulted outside housing in the past six months following of the Hands off Hendford Hill fear campaign”.
The spokesperson said: “It hasn’t happened before this time to our knowledge, so the assumption is that it’s related to this campaign, but obviously we don’t have any evidence for that assumption.”
Action group ‘strongly condemns alleged abuses’
In response to Mr Hancock’s claims, a spokesperson for Hands off Hendford Hill said: “HoHH strongly condemns the alleged abuse and harassment of all Pathways residents.
“No one should feel threatened or fear being attacked when in public – a key point in our objection to this proposal.”
The spokesperson added: “The HoHH Residents’ Group wishes to emphasize that its objective has simply been to raise awareness of this proposal and to highlight publicly available data, which we believe will have a detrimental effect. on the cohesion of our community.
“HoHH has, throughout the planning process, highlighted the residents’ desire to see a better solution offered for Yeovil’s homeless: Pathways’ unfortunate lesson tells us that moving to Acacia Lodge is not the responnse.
“Our MP, the Mayor and the overwhelming majority of the City Council Planning Committee have all listened to the evidence and decided that this is not the right solution for the community or for the homeless.
“HoHH never suggested that all crimes in Yeovil were the fault of Pathways residents.
“We do, however, have official data which shows that 770 requests for police presence to Pathways were made over a three-year period.
“Acacia Lodge, on the other hand, did not. It would be naive to argue that relocating Pathways to Acacia Lodge would not result in increased crime or fear of crime.
“HoHH remains open to further engagement from BCHA, SSDC and any other consultees involved in this planning request.”
Hundreds of Yeovil residents oppose new shelter plans
About 165 residents and business owners attended a meeting of Yeovil City Council this week, held at the Westlands Entertainment Venue, where councilors voted to raise an objection to new homeless shelter proposals. shelter amid the anger of area residents.
This decision was made on the basis that the proposed change of use would a) negatively impact nearby amenities and the conservation area, and b) instill fear of crime in the community.
Eight councilors voted against the proposed change of use at Acacia Lodge, three councilors abstained and one member did not vote because they declared an interest.
A statement from Hands off Hendford Hill following the council meeting read: “BCHA’s existing Pathways homeless shelter in Newton Road already has a negative reputation.
“Residents and neighboring businesses have long complained of living in fear, with police being frequently called to witness criminal and anti-social behavior involving residents of the shelter.
“We are delighted and grateful that eight of our councilors voted against this plan.”
Members of Hands off Hendford Hill believe the proposed facility would lead to ‘warehouse for the homeless’, and councilors were told at the meeting that Yeovil itself could be considered a ‘warehouse for the homeless’ -shelter” with “facilities accommodating up to 91% of South Somerset homeless needs, all based in the town”.
A spokesperson for Hands off Hendford Hill added: “Our research clearly highlights smaller household units, spread across the district, which improve the long-term support and well-being of homeless people – and n do not alienate other members of our community. It seems that a significant number of our councilors agree with us.
The association “disappointed” by the decision of the municipal council
Addressing the outcome of the City Council meeting, BCHA’s Martin Hancock said: “It is disappointing that the City Council has not shown their support for change of use to support the improvement of the accommodation of our customers, although we’re glad not all members voted against it.
“There is a risk of losing sight of the fact that residents of temporary housing who have experienced homelessness are also residents of Yeovil.
“A given number of written objections alone should not justify the refusal of a planning application. I do not believe that the main objectors are truly representative of the whole community.
“If you don’t have a stable place to live and you feel left out because of your homelessness situation, you just aren’t able to fully participate in the debate on the same basis.
“Acacia Lodge, which has not been used as a retirement home for a considerable time, will provide safe, secure and supported accommodation with 24/7 assistance to have a place to stay and work to help move forward in life and avoid a return to homelessness.”
Mr Hancock added: “It is wrong to say that we are ‘hoarding’ homeless people or that we do not have a thorough management plan in place.
“Even during the challenges of the Covid pandemic and many face-to-face closed local services, our Pathways staff have had tremendous success with many positive moves into longer-term accommodation, so it is clear that everything is already working. Good.
“Across all areas where we operate, we have a strong track record of supporting our customers in shared accommodations in places large and small.
“At the same time, we are working closely with community partners and other agencies, including public health agencies, on proactive management to ensure broader community safety and reassurance to neighbors and local residents.
“We will continue to advocate on behalf of our guests and Acacia Lodge and be open and transparent with the community regarding our change of use request, as we have done from the beginning.”