Homelessness in Northampton: Is the criteria too strict for homeless people to access borough council night shelter?

Picture: Alex Sturrock
Picture: Alex Sturrock

Access for homeless people to Northampton Borough Council's night shelter, launched last year to help homeless people, is too restrictive, it has been claimed.

The shelter works well for those who can get access. It’s a bright and positive environment: when the Bureau visited, hot lasagne was dished up and cups of tea and coffee were handed out. While some went straight to bed after eating, others sat up with staff doing puzzles and playing chess. There was also support and advice available on housing options and access to training courses.

But there are concerns the criteria for entry may be too strict and that more needs to be done for those who are turned away.

“John”, who sleeps rough in the town, says he has stayed in the shelter before but that trying to get back in has proved difficult.

“I’ve been trying to get in for six months now. They keep saying they’ll let me know by the end of the day and then I don’t see them for a couple of weeks. It’s the same again, the same again, I’ve just given up.”

The borough council told the Bureau that it “strongly disputes this man’s claim that he has been waiting six months for a decision on whether he can return to the night shelter. Decisions are normally made on the day that a night shelter referral is submitted”.

Before somebody is granted access to the shelter, a six-page referral form must be completed by an approved agency. Five years of previous addresses must be provided and detailed descriptions of where the person has been sleeping rough have to be given if they are already on the streets. Some people have been refused entry for not completing enough information on these forms. Other key reasons for refusal are not having a local connection, not engaging with local services, or being classed as high-risk.

A local homelessness worker who preferred not to be named told the Bureau the effect of this was to “exclude people with the most challenging behaviours”.

He said: “The bar is set very high and accordingly a lot of people don’t hit it. It isn’t a night shelter in anything other than name. It’s a high-threshold controlled-access hostel.”

The council told the Bureau that the “night shelter accepts a significant number of people who are likely to, or are very likely to, cause a problem due to their substance misuse, their mental ill-health or their other vulnerabilities.”

It also says the completion of the nightshelter referral form is “not particularly onerous” and is necessary to enable the team to complete a risk assessment.

The council provided three referring agencies - the Hope Centre, Bridge and S2S - with training on how to complete the referral form. In the absence of referrals from these, all are completed by the council’s street outreach workers and housing options and advice team; not the homeless person.

Homeless people who are unable to provide all of the information that is requested on the referral form are “extremely unlikely” to be refused access to the shelter, the council says.
However, if someone ‘refuses’ to provide the information they are likely to be refused access.