Residents ‘feel betrayed’ as homeless hostel wins planning approval despite their safety fears

There were 11 people sleeping rough in Islington at the last count

A hostel supporting 30 single homeless people off the streets will open in Finsbury Park, despite the concerns of residents who say the area suffers from anti-social behaviour.

It will open in a former nursing home for the elderly and people with dementia on Stacey Street in Isledon village.

Islington Council has won government funding and will also use its own funds on the building, which shut as a care home in 2018. People will stay there for between 12 and 18 months and move on to stable accommodation.

Resident Linda Scully told the planning committee (5 October) that the area was beset by anti-social behaviour: “We already feeling under siege and feel very anxious by the criminal activity that is already going on and only getting worse.

“This already significantly affects our freedom and amenity as we have to take precautions walking around the estate. Some areas we completely avoid, especially after dark.”

She explained that residents fear the hostel could attract more problems.

“How is the social and emotional development of our children to be safeguarded as they walk along Stacey Street alone, independently returning home from secondary school?” she asked.

“What adaptations will our 11-year-old girls need to make to arrive home safely?”

“Our residents feel betrayed,” she added.

The manager of the Sam Morris Nursery told the committee: “Over the last few years there has been a progressive rise in drug use and anti-social behaviour on  the estate.”

She said children have witnessed violence and the park at Isledon Gardens was ”no longer safe to use”.

“We’ve had staff threatened by drug addicts and drinkers,” she said.

Residents delivered a 265-signature petition calling for a rethink to full council last month.

They said they support work to help the homeless but the scheme was not suitable on the estate of 300 homes and suggested a smaller scheme.

Ward councillor Gary Heather said there were concerns about safety if people if the hostel had criminal records.

“We believe  it could place residents in danger,” he said. “The area is a well known drug-dealing hotspot.”

He said there was a police campaign, Operation Perch, to crack down on dealing in the park and elsewhere in Finsbury Park.

Ian Swift, the council’s director for housing needs and strategy, said the aim of the hostel was to eliminate rough sleeping.

He explained to the planning committee that it would be used for homeless people to stay before moving on to council or housing association homes.

“These people are just normal people,” he said. “They could be anybody – sons, sisters, daughters of anybody in this room.”

Swift sought to reassure residents that the hostel was not targeting people with drug addiction or criminal records, but single homeless people.

He said the provider is very experienced and the tender is due to be considered by the council’s leadership team on 14 October. There will be 24-hour support, staff on hand all the time, and a robust management plan.

He added: “What we are doing is bringing in the best possible support provider to provide that support.”

Swift said at the last count there were 11 homeless people sleeping rough in the borough, and went on: “Sixty-six per cent of people sleeping rough have committed no crime, they have lost a job or been evicted by parents.”

He said it does not follow that if people are sleeping rough they have a drug or alcohol addiction.

Planning committee member Roulin Khondoker said: “I agree the need is there but I am concerned the area does have issues. I am concerned for those who would be staying in this hostel who might not be vulnerable but may become vulnerable.”

The scheme was given planning permission and will be asked to contribute to improvements at the park to tackle crime and to have regular contact with Isledon Village residents.