Since it opened four years ago Westbourne House in Hull has been the centre of some controversy in The Avenues area the city with people living nearby voicing their concerns about antisocial behaviour, drug use, and street drinking.
Many of the residents at the hostel on Westbourne Avenue, off Princes Avenue, are homeless, have addiction problems and other complex issues that have ultimately led them there.
It houses 55 residents as well as a dedicated team of support staff.
The staff at Westbourne House (WH) work very closely with police officers, Hull City Council and other agencies to provide services to the residents, help them get on the right track, and ensure that any crime in the area is kept to a minimum.
Emma Wagner, Westbourne House’s assistant manager and PC Scott Greenwood, community beat manager (CBM) for The Avenues ward sat down to speak about the work they do.
Scott: “When I first started working in The Avenues there were a few street drinkers and homeless people on the streets and soon I found out that some residents are very against Westbourne House.
“I was told that we [the police] have a good working relationship with WH, and were doing some good initiatives such as the ‘homeless initiative’ which was done the previous winter. So I was looking to continue the work that the previous CBM had done.
“I went to see Emma within the first few weeks to see how we could help each other with any potential problems. I found out very quickly that if we had problems with people drinking on benches, on the streets, thefts or burglaries people were very quick to point the finger straight at WH.
“In the area there are other hostels and numerous multiple occupancy houses, but I realised it was very easy to place the blame at the door of WH because of where it is. But it’s not always the case.
“One complaint that we get a lot is about street drinking on the bench to the entrance to Pearson Park. Everybody immediately thought it was all people from WH. Some were but not all of them. But staff at WH go out and challenge the people who are there.
“That goes for the park as well. Emma has a contact in the park so they let her know if there are problems there. The same applies and staff will go out proactively and challenge the people involved.
“If residents from WH cause trouble then they risk losing their beds, which Is something they don’t want.
“We work together to identify offenders as well. If they’ve stayed at WH, the staff will probably know them. And that works the other way as WH send in intelligence to us as well and ask for advice. It’s a good working relationship to solve community issues.
“For example I had information sent through to me about an individual who was causing problems with some students. So I picked up the phone, spoke to Emma, she recognised who he was so he was out of WH for breach of his tenancy.
“He was negatively affecting the lives of the people living on the ward. When I gave feedback to the people living nearby, they were happy because action had been taken and he was out of the area.”
Emma: “We and the police come at it from different angles. I feel that the police sometimes don’t have enough information given to them from people on the streets. A lot of them don’t want to engage with officers.
“We provide support services and have a wealth of knowledge about other services available, so we’re in a really good position to be able to get people indoors and get them the help they need.
“Working with Scott and his team, we all want to work for the residents and the community. I live near WH so I know what it has been like.
“I feel like we’re doing the right things. For example we have the earliest curfew out of all the hostels in the city.
“There have been problems with begging and homeless people around Princes Avenue. We wanted to dispel the myth that a lot of beggars are homeless and weren’t getting support. A lot of beggars have been housed with support in place.
“Our job is to help vulnerable people, not demonise or criminalise them for being homeless or for begging on the streets.
Scott: “We had a prolific beggar who were served a criminal behaviour order on last year. It could have been left at that, but we got him a referral to MEAM (Making Every Adult Matter).
Emma: “MEAM is an impartial service run through Humbercare who support an individual on every part of their journey. With some people it’s all down to personal choice which has to be respected. When it becomes criminal behaviour it will be dealt with appropriately by the police.
“For us we can look at different options. We work with all of the hostels, Hull City Council, rough sleeper initiative, Emmaus outreach team and have links with GP surgeries.
“We meet regularly. So if Scott comes to me with someone he wants to know more about, I’m in a good position as I might know what their support needs are, and where to find them. That can be really helpful for us both.
“We and the police take ASB very seriously. We’re here to do a job and support people, but we do what is necessary and make sure we do our part.
“For the 55 people who live in our building, it’s their home. We have to teach them life skills and how to live independently eventually, and that includes not behaving antisocially or committing offences. We’re not doing our job as a service if we don’t teach them the consequences of their actions.
“Our residents will tell you that we can be very firm with things like that. I’m confident that our partnership with the police works really well.
Scott: “My role is help vulnerable people as well as reducing and tackling crime, so if there is a long standing issue such as ASB then it’s down to us to solve it. Some issues the police can solve directly, others we can’t, so that’s where other agencies come in.
Emma: “When police come to visit us everyone thinks there is an incident going on. We hear: ‘police are at WH again, they’re wasting police time etc.’ which is generally not the case.
“Because of where we are we’re visible and every police officer or car that visits, the assumption is that there is a major incident going on.
“We have good contacts around The Avenues and people feel comfortable coming to us now if they need anything resolving. We’ll continue to do that. We’re part of the community as are our residents. We want to do what we can to help.”
Scott: “Issues existed before Westbourne House even opened. There were problems with begging on Princes Avenue but that’s definitely been reduced. WH has seen some good results. Someone who was a prolific beggar is now living independently and hasn’t begged for years. It’s good to see.
“These things can take a bit of time. We do take positive and appropriate action where necessary and we always want people to come forward and let us know. We’ll deal with it or get the right agency in who can deal with it.”
Emma: “It does feel a lot quieter than it used to be. Again I want the public to contact us as well if they need anything. Be reassured that we will act. There’s never been a time when we haven’t tried to help.”
Danny Allman, manager of The Futures homelessness service said: “We work regularly with the police in many different areas. One of the most important is sharing information. Officers often attend looking for missing persons, to review CCTV, or to discuss any concerns locally with residents and businesses to talk about ASB for example.
“We’ve had quite a big impact when it comes to begging in the area. Whether they’re our residents or not, a responsibility of ours is to educate the wider community about any wider social impact, and what we’re doing about it. Also advising what they can do about it.
“If any of our residents are behaving antisocially, or there is anything needs addressing then we will pass that on to the police. We wouldn’t protect them just because they live here. We feel really strongly about our clients being given the same opportunities as anyone else, but we do teach about boundaries.
“We are in an area which has a high volume of people living here and people coming through. So we regularly speak with our residents at WH about their responsibilities and behaviour. We regularly get involved in the community, doing litter picks for instance.
“We also send our staff out to deal with situations that aren’t to do with our hostel because they have the right training and skills.
“That includes anything antisocial and anything that might affect people in a negative way locally.”
Darrell Swatten, who has been living at Westbourne House for about five months, said: “We see the police here every month. I don’t really ask why because it’s none of my business but the police are a welcome presence. It’s good to see because if it wasn’t for the police it’d be anarchy wouldn’t it?
“I’ve had nothing but help off the staff here. They’ve always been pleasant with me and supportive and I have nothing bad to say about them. They’ve done their best to help us and the community.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve moved from having a 10.30am curfew to having a bit more freedom, where I can go and visit family or friends three nights a week. To me it’s like a stepping stone to my own place. It’s much more quiet than it used to be.
“There’s help here if you need it. You just have to have a direction. Mine is to find my own place and get a job. It’s what you make of it. I want to move on. It serves a good purpose this place.”