Revealed: Homeless hostels place huge burden on Hackney police as force called out 3,000 times
- Credit: Archant
Homeless hostels are making huge demands on police resources in Hackney with thousands of call-outs for rowdy behaviour, violent assaults and missing people, the Gazette can reveal.
Police have been called to three hostels in the borough 3,282 times in six years – the equivalent of more than once a day – the Gazette’s Hidden Homeless investigation has found.
Two of the hostels are run by private landlords, prompting questions over whether owners should pay a community levy to pay for extra policing.
Cops say they regularly receive calls from hostels that range in nature from serious offences to disturbances and anti-social behaviour.
“This does place increased demand on the police resources,” said Det Insp Paul Ridley of Hackney police.
“However, if people require our assistance and report crimes, we have a responsibility to assist them and investigate.”
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He said the Met would always encourage hostel staff to call police if necessary, acknowledging the vulnerability of some people living in hostels, and said alerting police can prevent incidents from escalating.
The Gazette used Freedom of Information requests to find out how many times police were called to three hostels from 2011 to 2017. The data showed:
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- 1,384 call-outs to the Shuttleworth hostel in Well Street, South Hackney;
- 1,370 to St Mungo’s hostel in Mare Street, South Hackney;
- 528 to Ridley Villas hostel in Ridley Road, Dalston.
Some of the highest categories of calls were about violence against the person (519), people wanted by police (191), complaints of rowdy behaviour (141), missing people (107) and sexual offences (22).
One call from Ridley Villas related to firearms – although not all of these alleged offences necessarily took place on hostel premises.
Det Insp Ridley told the Gazette he would like to see security stepped up at some locations, saying security guards and hostel staff with conflict resolution training would likely reduce calls to police.
“I also believe the landlords have a social responsibility,” he said.
“If private companies are being paid millions of pounds a year to house people then the facilities should be fit for purpose and people with the necessary skills and experience running them.”
But Ray Forbes, a spokesman for Ridley Villas, said it was wrong to suggest owners were being paid millions.
He said the hostel received £130 per week, per room, to provide bedding, gas, electricity, water, cleaning, use of a washing machine and 24-hour staffing.
“The police call-outs for Ridley Villas breaks down to 1.5 calls per week, for a house in multiple occupation, housing 83 vulnerable people, who hitherto would have been homeless,” said Mr Forbes.
He added that a growing number of people referred to the hostel have mental health issues.
“We have a duty of care to everybody in Ridley Villas and in certain situations there is a need to call police in an effort to safeguard all concerned,” he said.
“In reality, the hostel and others like it are the last safety net for a number of people before they live on the street, which is not something anyone wants to see.”
Ridley Villas is owned by a company ultimately controlled by property tycoon Henry Smith.
Meanwhile, people living at hostels across the borough have told the Gazette they feel unsafe.
One woman at the Shuttleworth was assaulted in her room by an ex-resident with a serious drug problem in January.
She was smashed on the head with a hammer during the attack, which left her deeply shaken.
The hostel’s area manager Peter Chan said additional CCTV cameras and a door entry system with fobs have been installed in the last year to strengthen security at the Shuttleworth, and there are regular patrols inside and outside the hostel.
But the hostel’s owner, Hussein Ridha, criticised the Gazette for comparing the Shuttleworth with St Mungo’s, saying it was an “unfair representation” as his hostel is larger and not paid to provide additional support to residents.
“I believe they are paid something like three times what we are paid,” he said. “Yet they still have the same level of anti-social behaviour that we have.
“We are far more efficient at managing the hostel. We provide great value to the public for the service that we provide.”
St Mungo’s is run by a charity and offers a host of support services for the 70 people living there. Despite this, it had the highest ratio of police calls to room numbers.
Simon Hughes, St Mungo’s regional head for east London, admitted staff are in frequent contact with police, but said this was mainly to help residents report crimes against them that occur away from the hostel.
“We work very hard to be good neighbours and work very closely with local community policing teams to swiftly deal with any issues that do arise,” he said.
Mayor of Hackney Phil Glanville said it was important not to stigmatise temporary accommodation.
He praised St Mungo’s as a “very high quality, well run hostel”.
When pushed on whether hostel landlords – who were paid an estimated £7m by the council last year – should cough up for a community policing levy, he said: “Landlords have a duty to manage their properties well, and we’re very clear about security, CCTV, resident safety and our expectations of landlords we work with.”
Community bearing the brunt of density of homeless services in South Hackney
People living in South Hackney say the concentration of homeless services in the area is having a detrimental impact on the wider community.
In February, police organised a community meeting to discuss anti-social behaviour and drug dealing in South Hackney linked to homelessness.
Residents had expressed concern about street drinking, drug dealing and nuisance behaviour – such as people urinating in front gardens, being verbally abusive or aggressive begging.
The Gazette has been told the issues have been going on for 10 years or more.
As well as the Shuttleworth and St Mungo’s hostels, the council’s Greenhouse walk-in centre for homeless services, Lifeline Community Drug Service and a WDP support centre for substance misuse are all based in South Hackney.
Mayor of Hackney Phil Glanville said it was important to see the bigger picture.
“I think there’s a lot of co-location around St Mungo’s, which has positive and negative effects,” he said. “You could say it’s a centre for excellence for support for single homeless people, for support around addiction.”
He said the council works closely with partners to try and manage the impact on the community.
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Do you have a story to tell about housing difficulties or living in a hostel? Do you have pictures or video that reveal shocking conditions? Join the Gazettes’ Hackney Hostels Hotline Facebook group to share your experiences.