'One-size-fits-all' Northampton night shelter would put women at risk of exploitation, says former MP

Former MP Sally Keeble says a night shelter for both men and women would be 'unsafe and inappropriate'.
Former MP Sally Keeble says a night shelter for both men and women would be 'unsafe and inappropriate'.

A former MP has spurned a suggestion that the home of a Northampton homelessness charity could be made into a rough sleepers' shelter for both men and women.

Sally Keeble says a 'one-size-fits-all' shelter for both men and women to keep them off the streets at night would put women 'at risk of exploitation'.

Oasis House has moved to evict homelessness support charity The Hope Centre to make room for more accommodation services.

Oasis House has moved to evict homelessness support charity The Hope Centre to make room for more accommodation services.

It comes after the former housing minister revealed in October that homelessness support charity The Hope Centre is being evicted from its home at Oasis House, in Bailiff Street.

Yesterday (October 1), Oasis House's landlords - Midland Heart - said they issued the charity the eviction notice with a vision to offer more live-in services at the house, rather than Hope's day centre-style support.

But Midland Heart also revealed they have suggested to the borough council that they could make room for the town's men-only emergency night shelter - and even open it up to female rough sleepers as well.

But Mrs Keeble claims a shelter for men and women would not be 'safe or appropriate'.

Mrs Keeble said: "The ratio of female rough sleepers to male is about one to five. And the fact is a number of female rough sleepers are exploited by men.

"The way to deal with the problem of rough-sleeping women is to provide them with safe accommodation. So to put them in the centre of a very large hostel full of blokes is not, I would think, a safe place.

"It seems to me the cheapest, safest option is to convert a house into a women's shelter and keep both groups separate. They [the borough council] could solve this problem tomorrow."

Rebekah Newton, director of supported living at Midland Heart, said: “Oasis House could meet the objective to provide both male and female accommodation and as such we have approached the council with our vision and specifically suggested that our expansion could house their night shelter. However, no decisions have yet been made.

“With homelessness continuing to rise there is a need to increase the amount of emergency accommodation for those rough sleeping in Northampton."

The Hope Centre - which provides a day centre service that offers discounted food, showers, computers and legal advice to disadvantaged people - has been given a year to vacate and find a new home.

Mrs Newton said: "Services such as those provided by the Hope Centre play an important part in tackling homelessness. However, these services can be successfully delivered for elsewhere in the community."

The Hope Centre was moved into the purpose-built Oasis House in 2012 after it was evicted from its former site in Ash Street.

CEO of the Hope Centre Robin Burgess said: "We remain completely nonplussed at the rationale for this. It makes no sense to us. Frankly, Midland Heart has shown they don't know what we do.

"We're not aware of any consultation they have had other than with the borough council. Not with the police, not with healthcare providers, and not with any great number of councillors.

"Our message is please, revoke this decision. This is a mistake based on lack of awareness, lack of knowledge and lack of consultation."