Canterbury has a significant problem with homelessness

Homeless centre to shut at coldest time of the year – but is it right?

It was a shocking revelation to say the least – especially as temperatures hovered around the zero Celsius mark in Canterbury overnight.

Catching Lives manager Terry Gore insisted he had been left with no other choice but to close the homeless charity’s open centre in Station Road East for five days.

He blamed the fact that he had repeatedly warned users of the centre not to take hard drugs or break the its rules, adding that those not involved had also refused to provide information about those who were.

Let us be clear. The open centre is not a night shelter for those on the streets – rather it offers users a drop-in service providing such things as food and cleaning facilities.

Homeless people often shelter in the St George’s underpass

Reaction to the decision has been unsurprisingly swift in Canterbury where homelessness remains the city’s most visible social issue.

It has also polarised opinion into two distinct camps: those appalled by Catching Lives’ decision and those sympathetic to it.

In a typical example of the former, one erstwhile supporter branded it an “utter disgrace” and said he would no longer donate to it.

At the other pole, one commentator called for police to investigate drug-taking at the centre and demanded to know where heroin addicts acquired money for their habits.

Another way of reading the division between the two poles is to see it in terms of those who believe homelessness is a result of an iniquitous and poorly organised society which dooms some to a life on the streets and those who believe the homeless are there because choices they have made.

The city’s homeless people find themselves on the streets for various reasons

The cold reality is, as ever, somewhere in between.

Canterbury’s homeless population is a mixture of both. It comprises victims of bitter circumstance, mainly middle aged men, who do not drink or do drugs but who are not priorities for rehousing and those whose spiral of addiction is the very reason they call underpasses or tents in fields their homes.

How right is it, for example, to place ruinous heroin addicts or alcoholics into sheltered accommodation with vulnerable people when they refuse to abide by accepted rules?

This, in a sense, is the dilemma faced by Terry Gore and Catching Lives. He wants the centre to work and for it work successfully it must have a structure and system of rules in place so that it can do so.

By closing the centre for five days, Mr Gore is saying to those who do not engage in illicit activities that they have got to play your part in making sure it functions effectively.

Catching Lives decision to close the centre was not taken thoughtlessly or on a whim.

It is instead an act of tough love.

2 responses to “Homeless centre to shut at coldest time of the year – but is it right?”

  1. Having been a client of the centre myself when I was homeless in 2014 I have nothing but praise for Terry and his staff. Everyone who signs up to use their facilities is made fully aware of the zero tolerance stance taken with regard to alcohol and drugs both on the premises and in the immediate surrounding area. Access to medical and support programmes is offered and arranged for those with dependency issues, those unwilling to participate have no right to expose other often vulnerable clients, or the staff for that matter, to the risks they care little about taking themselves. I’m certain the many donors who would turn their backs on the centre for tolerating overt illegal and dangerous behaviour far outweigh those who would rather let it slide. The centre must operate within the law to provide safety and security for those genuinely wishing to improve their situation. I am genuinely grateful to Terry and all who helped me in my time there. Keep up the good work.

  2. Ian Skelding says:

    I am a former client of Catching Lives facilities, I stand by Terry’s decision to close the centre for a few days under the circumstances, there are many vulnerable people who use the centres facilities. The staff at Catching Lives are providing a much needed service for the people who are genuinely in need of the help they are there to provide, it only takes a few people to misuse the centre and what it is there for to spoil things for those who are genuine. Rules are there for a reason, Catching Lives would not take something like alcohol and drug addiction lightly in the daily running of the centre. Terry is right to stamp it out from the centre and the nearby areas, Drink and drug use is a BIG NO, spare a thought for those who need the services at Catching Lives.

    Keep up the good work Terry, I know it wasn’t an easy decision for you to make, but I say under the circumstances you made the right choice.

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