A major renovation of a Newcastle homeless hostel could be signed off this week - with the charity behind the plans moving to calm neighbours’ fears over “traumatising” anti-social behaviour, noise, and drug use.
Changing Lives is proposing a complete overhaul of Elliott House in Elswick, converting it from a 52-bedroom hostel into 36 apartments to help some of the city’s most vulnerable residents live independently.
Dozens of residents have complained about problems caused by the existing hostel in Bentinck Terrace, which offers emergency accommodation for rough sleepers and others facing a crisis.
One resident objecting to the new plans complained of “torture and traumatising behaviour we have to suffer most of the nights due to their noise, bad language and screaming and shouting”.
But Changing Lives says it believes residents are now “incredibly supportive” of the renovation, which will “help support people who are experiencing homelessness in a more meaningful way”.
The overhaul will mean that future occupants on Elliott House will not be people in crisis situations, but those who have moved on from emergency accommodation and have lower support needs.
Ahead of a Newcastle City Council planning committee hearing to decide on the plans this Friday, 23 letters of objection and a petition with 66 signatures have been submitted.
Three local councillors have also objected, but local authority planning officers are recommending that the scheme is approved.
Stephen Bell, chief executive at Changing Lives said: “We are embarking on this regeneration project to help support people who are experiencing homelessness in a more meaningful way. The work will transform Elliott House, which is currently a 52-bedroom hostel, into 36 self-contained apartments for people who have experienced difficult times but are now wanting to live independently within the community.
“We understand that previously some local residents had raised concerns about our plans at Elliott House.
"Since then, we have had regular contact and meetings with the local community to explain the project and what it means to people who use our services.
“The people we have spoken to have been incredibly supportive of our plans to help more people experiencing a tough time and we would like to thank them for all of their support.
"We look forward to continuing our work with the community on this project.”
Among the objection to the renovation of Elliott House were claims that its occupants “are always causing problems and danger to the residents as they are constantly drinking alcohol and using illegal substances in the back lanes”.
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Another objector said: “It's bad enough that it's here in the first place in the middle of a residential area with all the torment and problems it already has brought and brings. The people they help are always drunk and disorderly and substance abusers filling our back gardens with their used equipment.”
But Northumbria Police has no objection and a council report to the planning committee has concluded that the complaints relate to the hostel’s existing use and should not apply to the refurbished site.
It states: “The change in the way in which the property would operate, combined with the retention of a number of staff on site is such that there is not considered to be demonstrable harm in this regard.”
Residents in the new accommodation would be expected to stay for up to two years, while current occupants would be relocated to “alternative, likely better quality accommodation elsewhere in the city”.