Shropshire Star

Homeless charity suspends day centre due to 'intimidating' behaviour in troubled Shrewsbury town centre

A homeless charity is suspending its day centre due to "intimidating" behaviour around its premises and in a troubled town centre.

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Emily Bell, chair of Shrewsbury Ark

Shrewsbury Ark will close day services for four weeks from next Monday, October 2 after talks with police over anti-social behaviour in and around the charity's Castle Foregate base.

It comes after numerous incidents of drug dealing, shoplifting and fighting in the town centre. Last month a man was slashed with a bottle in the car park next to Shrewsbury Ark.

Anti-social behaviour problems in the town centre have recently prompted the town's MP Daniel Kawczynski to put the area's police and crime commissioner "on notice", and Shrewsbury Town Council has set up a taskforce to try and combat the problem after drug users were seen shooting up in full view of the public.

Emily Bell, chair of The Shrewsbury Ark trustees, said there are "a minority of intimidating people behaving unacceptably, who are attracted to the Ark," and the presence of drugs and other societal pressures is exacerbating their behaviour.

“While we have banned several offenders, we recognise this is not sufficient to stop the anti-social behaviour in and around our premises.” she said.

“Having reviewed many options to improve the safety of staff, volunteers and the local community, the trustees feel that a temporary closure of the day centre facilities is the best way forward.

“During this time, and working alongside RESET and Shropshire Council, we will continue to provide off-premises support for those who are sleeping rough. We will also take the opportunity to review and improve our processes, facilities, training, and building, to enhance the service we offer to those who do want to make positive changes in their lives.”

She added: "We are living in very different times to when the original Ark opened its doors in 1972, indeed, Shrewsbury is no exception to the nationwide trends of an increase in homelessness, and drug availability.”

Government figures show 79,840 households faced homelessness in England between January and March 2023 – the highest number on record, while recent research by the charity Shelter reveals one in two working private renters in England - 3.2 million adults – wouldn’t have enough in savings to pay their rent for more than a month if they lost their job.

Drug use, drug seizures and drug offences continue to increase within the UK, with a total annual cost to society of over £21 billion.

Helen Ball, clerk for Shrewsbury Town Council, said “The Ark plays a crucial part in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society and the town council has worked closely with the trustees and staff to work collaboratively in establishing solutions to some of the complex problems these individuals face. But it sometimes comes to a point where organisations have to take stock of the support they give and we will continue to provide the necessary assistance they need to maintain that vital and valuable role.”

The temporary suspension of day centre services will allow the Ark’s trustees, staff, and stakeholders time to introduce enhanced measures for the safety of staff, volunteers, and the local community.

The Shrewsbury Ark is an independent local charity working to support homeless and vulnerable people. As well as meeting a person’s basic needs by providing food, shower and laundry facilities and access to housing services, other essential support is delivered by partners in the premises and includes mental health, drug and alcohol support, medical services, and trauma counselling.

The trustees will be in contact with the police and council throughout the period of closure.

The board has apologised for any inconvenience that the suspension of the day centre facilities may cause and hopes to re-open to those needing support better equipped to face the challenges that lie ahead, before the cold weather sets in.

Support from staff and volunteers, particularly for rough sleepers, will continue, away from the Ark premises.