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Uncertain future for Maidenhead homeless shelter

An uncertain future lies ahead for a Maidenhead homeless shelter after the organisation which manages it announced it will leave this week.

Look Ahead, manager of the council-owned John West House in Howarth Road, off Stafferton Way, will not renew its lease when it expires on Sunday.

The council is looking to find a new manager for the shelter, which can house up to eight rough sleepers, but is yet to find a replacement.

Look Ahead said it has been working closely with the Royal Borough to find John West House’s residents ‘appropriate alternative accommodation’.

Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green), cabinet member for housing, said: “John West House is not shutting.

“This support service from the council is all there and the support over the winter will still be provided.

“We are still willing to work with all and any partner; it’s just about who can best run the service.

“It could be the [Maidenhead-based homeless charity] Brett Foundation or other national partners.”

Sue Brett, founder of the Brett Foundation, said she
was ‘a bit concerned’ that no
replacement has been found to manage John West House.

But she said the charity could take over at the site
‘almost immediately’ if she was asked to.

She said: “We’d love to move there. For us it would be ideal, what with winter getting closer.

“We are already on the ground, we know the lads there, they trust us. It would
be a dream come true, but we have not been asked.”

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According to Cllr McWilliams, the cabinet will consider activating the severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) in a few weeks.

Once SWEP is activated, shelter must be provided for rough sleepers in the borough.

John West House is named after ‘Big John’ West, a Maidenhead-based homeless man, often seen outside the Halifax in High Street, who died in 2016.

The shelter, which opened in January 2017, is laid out like a dormitory, with beds in an open-plan room.

Although it is not clear when the shelter will
reopen after Look Ahead departs, Cllr McWilliams said that when it does, he wants to make some changes to it.

He said: “I don’t think the open-plan model works when there are vulnerable people with all sorts of mental health difficulties there.

“What we are looking for is probably more self-contained units.

“Each person will have a long-term plan in place.

“Giving someone a home and saying we are here, with a plan specifically for them, is a more positive, longer-term solution.”

A spokeswoman for Look Ahead, a London-based charitable housing association, said: “We have been working closely with the Royal Borough with this planned closure and to support all residents to move on to appropriate alternative accommodation. All staff affected have been successfully deployed to other local Look Ahead services.

“Look Ahead are continuing to work with the Royal Borough to shape the borough’s future service provision for rough sleepers.”

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