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It has been supporting vulnerable young people in South London for 19 years, but now Look Ahead’s Gateway Foyer is due to close after Southwark Council decommissioned the service.
The 116-bed hostel currently houses 94 young people aged between 16 and 25, each referred for varying reasons such as leaving care, rough sleeping and family breakdown.
In preparation for the closure, Gateway Foyer has stopped accepting referrals and Look Ahead says it is working with the council and others to ensure all residents are resettled into “alternative, appropriate accommodation” by 30 September 2015.
For some residents, like Seth, the future looks bright. “Right now me and some friends are looking for a place to stay – I’m working and I can afford it,” he says. But he’s not sure how his peers will fare. “I know the staff are obviously doing their best... but there are a lot of residents, so I don’t know. Some will probably end up going back home.”
One resident who is worried is Abdusalam, who has been at the Foyer for three years. He arrived in the UK some five years ago but is struggling to move on due to housing offers falling through and other services refusing to accept him because of a lack of local connection. “They say ‘Where you been before? Ok, you have to go there.’ They should look after me, this hostel, but they don’t care... I don’t know what can I do now. What can I do? I haven't got any family. I haven’t got any friends.”
Although more optimistic that the staff are doing their best to rehouse everyone, fellow resident Mohamed is worried about wider cuts to services, following chancellor George Osborne’s £30 billion austerity plans: “That’s going to make it harder for them [Gateway Foyer] to actually place us... I am scared of getting kicked out maybe too far from London, because I know they are trying to push people out.”
So why is the service closing anyway? Look Ahead says: “Look Ahead and Southwark Council have been in extensive discussions over the past several months in regards to the reducing demand within Southwark for the 116 units of accommodation, and the desire on behalf of both organisations to move towards a smaller, more specialist provision for young people.”
The Pavement asked Southwark Council what other provision the borough has in place for young people. It highlighted four supported housing schemes for young people aged 16–25 and a new supported housing scheme in the borough for care leavers aged 16–18. “A new scheme has also been developed which offers pre-tenancy training and is available to young people who are moving into their own council tenancies,” explained media officer Asha Budhu. “Other schemes available include: ‘Staying Put’ and floating support for young people who are in their own tenancies.”
Ms Budhu also cited plans to offer more varied accommodation for those over 16, with an emphasis upon commissioning “smaller, personalised provision meeting individual need”. We asked the council for more specific details on these new services but have not yet received this information.
We also asked whether Southwark Council would accept a duty to house all the young people at Gateway Foyer (whether or not they have a local connection)? And, if not, would some of the young people have to leave the borough? The response: “No, Southwark Council will absolutely fulfil its duty to our young people at Gateway Foyer. We will be working with other referring agencies and local authorities as required to ensure that non-Southwark people are offered appropriate support and opportunities by their host authority or referring agency.” Which suggests that ‘non-Southwark’ residents (about half of the current residents were referred in from outside the borough) could indeed find themselves relocated.
Savvas Panas, CEO of The Pilion Trust, has already noticed some of the residents being told to return to their original referrers – including The Pilion Trust’s own shelter, The Crashpad. “I rang and I said ‘You cannot be serious. Some of these kids we haven’t seen in over two years, why would they come back to us? We were crisis intervention... you must have a responsibility to rehouse as part of your contract. It’s a supportive housing scheme, you cannot be throwing them out’.”
It’s not just a safe place to stay that residents will lose, adds Mr Panas. “Gateway Foyer is a lovely project; it’s housing, with training attached, so you can only get into it if you’re prepared to go through education, apprenticeships, training… And as soon as you get your qualification, you’ll move on.” So with the closure, residents could find their training cut short. “One of our girls went for an interview at Centrepoint Southwark and they’re not prepared to recognise and transfer across the amount of time she stayed at the Gateway. They’re going ‘No, you’ll come here and start again’. So if she says no to that, and they’re saying that’s a viable offer, she’ll make herself intentionally homeless. Where in reality it isn’t a viable offer.”
Coming in conjunction with the benefit cuts for under, Mr Panas – like many – is worried at the decreasing provision for young homeless people. “The vulnerable, without families, out of care, facing abuse and sexual abuse, where is that group of young people that we work with going to go?”