As Milton Keynes reels from the death of a third homeless man on its streets, city officials are pondering a request to open an all-year-round shelter for people with nowhere to live.
The Winter Night Shelter team has joined forced with 29 charities and organisations to a make a formal bid to take over the old Buszy building (pictured) opposite CMK rail station.
The decision lies in the hands of MKDP, the council’s own ‘money-making’ commercial company.
They must decide, morally as well as financially, whether a permanent homeless shelter paying a nominal lease is the best use of one of the most expensive plots of land at the ‘gateway’ of MK.
But meanwhile MK Council leader Pete Marland has made a “personal promise” that the council will help find the night shelter project alternative premises if the Buszy bid is not successful.
Already MKDP has agreed to allow the Buszy, once a bus station, to be used this year as a temporary reception centre for the Winter Night Shelter. But the consent was on a strictly one-off basis while the building was being actively marketed.
The project will open its doors to homeless people on December 1 and run until the weather warms up in mid March 2017.
In its sixth highly successful year, it is run an army of 450 volunteers and receives no funding from the authorities.
It takes 15 people from the streets, assesses what help they need, and then buses them out to various church halls and community centres to eat and sleep.
Full-time use of the Buszy would enable the scheme to double in size, taking in 30 people every winter and 15 for every other day of the year, said Winter Night Shelter chair Richard Wightman, whose bid to the MKDP is backed by MP Mark Lancaster.
“Our first objective is trying to protect homeless or vulnerable people from death through exposure during the coldest months,” he said.
“Secondly, as we build up relationships and trust with these people, we are able to help them access support and services they need to get their lives back on track. We have had some great success stories so far.”
Sadly homeless Jimmy Owens, found dead in his tent under a CMK underpass this week, was NOT eligible for night shelter care because of his complex needs and history of substance/alcohol addiction.
“We are not specialists in mental health and addictions. There are certain people, like Jimmy, who need skilled professionals to help them,” said Richard.
He, along with all the other homeless charities, strongly believes there is a need for a separate ‘wet hostel facility’ to deal with people such as Jimmy.
“A permanent shelter at the Buszy, or a similar easily accessible building somewhere else in CMK, is desperately needed and would solve part of the problem. But MK still needs a ‘wet hostel’ too,” he said.
MKDP has received around 12 bids from people interested in taking over the Buszy. They will be considered over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile MK council leader Pete Marland - who is also on the MKDP board - said: “I’d be happy to support Winter Night Shelter if it is the best bid and the best use of the building, but it would not be fair on all the other community groups and organisations who are also bidding to make a decision before we’ve seen all the applications.”
Pete added: “What I can pledge is that if the Winter Night Shelter aren’t’ successful on the Old Bus Station, MK Council will help find them other suitable premises - and that’s a personal promise.”
City MP Mark Lancaster, who has invited the government minister for homelessness to visit MK with him, has written to MKDP saying: “I urge you to seriously consider the fully self-funded proposal by the Winter Night Shelter for the old bus station.
“I believe it will help plug major gaps within the homelessness sector in the city and address many of the concerns identified by key community stakeholders.”