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Maidstone & Malling’s No 1 - 88,000 copies - 4 editions Maidstone Town Edition March 2012 No.179 Homeless rise as economy suffers


HOMELESSNESS in Maidstone has reached a worrying level, with the past 12 months showing a dramatic increase in those hav- ing nowhere to live. Since April 2011, 62% of people seeking housing advice at Maidstone Council's Gateway centre presented as homeless, compared with 24% the previous year. Domestic abuse and mortgage arrears


were cited among the biggest contributing factors in a report from the borough's head of housing services manager, Neil Coles. Maidstone Day Centre now has up to 40 people a day dropping in for food, showers and advice on how to get off the streets. Most are not the stereotypical “park bench” sleepers, with businessmen and professionals now numbering among those on the homeless register, as well as young people whose parents can no longer afford to keep them. Day centre manager Sue Tallowin said:


“Most of our clients do not look homeless and you would never guess. They don’t want to draw attention to themselves and they don’t want any trouble.” Increasing numbers of young people be- come “sofa-surfers” when they leave school


Celebrating Maidstone’s


sporting success THE St Francis School girls’ foot- ball team was among those who re- ceived accolades at the latest youth sport achievement awards. The girls (pictured) scooped


team of the year at the ceremony, which was organised by Maid- stone Council to celebrate success in awide range of sports including athletics, boxing, cricket, football, gymnastics and squash. Full story - page 3


A NEW one-stop shop for children’s services in theMaidstone borough is about to launch in Coxheath – apparently after minimal con- sultation. From early April, children’s therapy serv-


ices, community paediatricians and the child and adolescent mental health services will move to the refurbished Heathside House in Heath Road, which used to be a dementia clinic. The services are currently provided in Pre-


stonHall inAylesford, Gatland House in Fant, Maidstone Hospital and Foster Street and Union Street, which are both in Maidstone town centre. The Kent Community Health NHS Trust insists many of these sites are out of date and do not offer modern facilities. It has been known for many years that


Grade II-listed Preston Hall was to close – all services are due to be out by the end ofMarch,


a housing scheme for 318 dwellings was un- veiled last summer – but service users were not told that many of the services would be transferred to Coxheath, four miles south of town. Ailsa McMahon, manager of charity M4S Maidstone Special Needs Support Service, said: “If families can access comprehensive services in one place with coordinated ap- pointments, this can be helpful so they may benefit from the move. “However, the Coxheath location may be difficult for families who do not have a car. It would have been useful if families had been consulted about themove in advance.” Independent chair of Maidstone Children's Board, Alex Turner, said: “The local chil- dren's board has not yet been engaged in talks and was not aware of any changes at its last meeting in November. Indeed, most other


BIG IN OAK


and their parents can no longer claim bene- fits. “We hear the same stories time and time again – ‘my mum can’t afford to keep me’ is a recurring theme. There are also youngsters who leave home as a result of disputes with a step-parent. Someone else’s children aren’t quite so appealing when they become belligerent teenagers,” said Sue.


Most people who present as homeless are


local, but Maidstone also suffers from the occasional ex-convict released from jail with nowhere to go. “Their families don’t want to know them,


they have no money and they don’t know what to do. On paper, there might be a re- habilitation plan, but it doesn’t always hap- pen that way.” Sue and her staff regularly encounter strong, proud menwho break down in tears. She said: “They have always been the bread-winners, supporting their partners and families. When they come to us, they have lost their jobs, their homes and their self respect.” With housing benefit changes due to come


into effect in April, the council expects to see an increase in the number of tenantsmi-


grating from London to Kent and the day centre is bracing itself for even more heartache. Sue said: “We never turn anyone away –


but we can’t offer them overnight P4


MP: Problem getting worse RARELY a week goes by without someone appealing for help with housing to MP Helen Grant. The member for Maidstone andWeald said housing was one of the key issues constituents brought to her Albion Place surgeries. "The problem is ongoing and getting worse," she said. "There is simply not enough housing available." Overcrowding was a particular problem,


said theMP. "When you have a family of four sharing a one-bedroomed flat, difficulties are bound to arise.Young parents with young children find it exceptionally hard to cope and living in cramped conditions simply adds to the difficulties. You can see situations which youknowhave the potential to implode and you have to do everything you can to get them out."


Drivers warned MOTORISTS face having their vehicles towed away if they park illegally during the forth- coming town centre gas repair works. “We can’t afford afford the time to do otherwise,” said an officer. Full story - page 24


Community centre scheme unveiled P8


History and library facility on track


P12


Magistrate retires after 31 years P18


New hub for children’s services - but where was the consultation?


services in the town have been surprised that these important moves are going to be in place around Easter. “I welcome the bringing together of services


under one roof and I am sure that we will workwell with them all once they settle in.” A spokeswoman for the trust said that pa-


tients from as far afield as theWeald of Kent use the services, so Coxheath was ideally lo- cated as a central hub. She added: “We are in the process of refur- bishing the centre to create a high quality modern facility, customised tomeet children’s needs. “We do not yet have a definite date for this


move but we expect it to happen during April. We are speaking to families about the changes andwewill be making sure that they are fully informed of when services are mov- ing.”


The Big Yellow Building, St Peters St, Maidstone 0800 652 0102 www.lincolnfurniture.co.uk


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