Posted: Thu 4th Jun 2020

Pandemic response sees homeless housed on university campus – early release prisoner plan not required for people living in or visiting the wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Jun 4th, 2020

Wrexham Council will be looking for long term alternative accommodation provision for the for the rough sleeper community after buildings earmarked for demolition at the university were used for an emergency pandemic response.

However a change in UK policy meant early release prisoners have not joined them at the Plas Coch site.

In documents seen by the plans being formed in early April followed Welsh Government instruction to all local Authorities to source emergency temporary accommodation for the rough sleeper community.

At the time Wrexham Council said: “The current numbers of rough sleepers are increasing in Wrexham due to a number of factors inclusive of, early prison release, release from approved premises, increase in domestic violence cases, closure of caravan parks and people being asked to socially isolate from where they have been sofa surfing.

“Welsh Government has confirmed that the accommodation to be sourced is required to be self-contained with en-suite facilities to enable those in need of secure accommodation to move swiftly into supported and safe environments. This will enable them to self-isolate when necessary and to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.”

The Council did not own a suitable asset that fitted the criteria and they also noted the majority of local hotels had already been closed or secured for use by the Health Board.

The above site on the Wrexham Glyndwr University campus was identified for use, which at the time was mothballed and dormant pending demolition and sale of the site as part of the recent large planning application lodged by the university.

There are three blocks, each containing six self-contained rooms with bathroom facilities, and a visit by the council deemed them in ‘reasonable and sound condition’. The University agreed to their use, and Welsh Government has been footing the bill.

A “robust management plan” of the university site was developed, and the ability to utilise other accommodation, possibly Council house voids, for those rough sleepers “identified as being unable to mix” was also explored.

Earlier this week Council Leader Mark Pritchard praised the university, stating:  “We were struggling in Wrexham to find some extra accommodation and buildings. We did speak to a lot of landlords and they just wouldn’t work with us.

“I must say the university were fantastic. They didn’t have to do this.

“Remember, that the building was ready to be demolished for future construction, but they allowed us access and they worked with us. They didn’t have to hesitate. They said yes, straight away. So I was pleased.”

Cllr Hugh Jones said:”I think basically the challenge we’ve dealt with immediately in terms of providing the accommodation, and the challenges going forward in terms of the future, is how we meet the Welsh Government targets of removing everybody from the streets, given that there are those individuals sofa surf or rough sleep as a choice.

“Our main objective is to deal with the most vulnerable. I think that’s going to be the challenge going forward.”

We had been told the council were planning to house in the region of 50-100 people, and the early stage development of ideas was working in the possibility of early release prisons from HMP Berwyn. We asked if that was the plan, and did it happen.

Cllr Pritchard said: “I don’t believe it has happened. I don’t believe that any prisoners have been placed there.”

Cllr Hugh Jones explained: “In terms of prisoner release it’s only been about 76 people across the whole of the UK. My understanding is that Berwyn has not released anybody early.”

Chief Executive Ian Bancroft added: “In terms of the original plan, there was a big push by Welsh Government and UK Government’s to have an early release program.

“That was not followed through in the end, which I think is what Hugh has mentioned, in terms of that that it didn’t happen, which is why we haven’t had to locate a number of people there.

“What Cllr Jones has been referencing is the fact that just like as normal, there have been some releases from prison. That would have been the release from prison as per normal, that would have gone into various sites, but we haven’t had that major program recently.”

The Ministry of Justice announced on 4 April that as many as 4,000 prisoners who were within two months of their release date and had passed a risk assessment would be freed. As of 31 May, the figure stood at less than 100.

As the site was referenced as ‘temporary’ we asked what that meant, as the recovery period referenced in council documents point to anything up to 18 months.

Cllr Pritchard said: “I don’t think it will go over six months because obviously the university is ambitious, they’ve got plans for their campus, they want to invest lots of money. And as I say, they’ve worked with us, we’ve been very grateful for what they have done. They given us an opportunity and some time to try and work with other providers to find alternative provision.”

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