Depaul charity hits back in Edgbaston hostel row
Opposition to plans by the Depaul Trust to locate a home for vulnerable youths on a leafy street in Edgbaston is mounting. Here, the charity’s regional manager Peter Hannah-Smith tells Shahid Naqvi why it should be allowed to go ahead.
Peter Hannah-Smith tells a story. "There was a young guy who was a crack cocaine addict. He was prostituted by his mother at the age of 12 who was also a crack cocaine addict.
"He came here feeling totally worthless. To have a parent doing that to you, you are not going to feel good. We got him support for his drug addiction. We encouraged him to go for his goals.
"Despite everything that happened his big goal was to knock on his mother’s door and for her to be proud. We saw him a couple of years ago in his suit with his partner and with his young child, in work.
"Things were going really well for him. That is the kind of difference you can make."
The youth Peter talks about is the kind of person the Depaul Trust wants to see rehabilitated in a five-bedroomed house on a residential road in leafy Edgbaston.
But if residents, a Conservative councillor, an independent school opposite, a retirement home next door and now even the police get their way, it won’t happen.
Peter remains optimistic greater awareness of what the charity does will change hearts and minds.
The proposed facility at 7 Church Road will act as a staging post for troubled young men aged 16 to 19 to learn vital independent living skills.
"All of the people going to Church Road will have achieved certain milestones. It is a fantastic opportunity for them to go and prove they can be valuable members of the community," said Peter. "Everywhere else we have operated this has been our experience. People object initially, but very often they end up working as volunteers for us.
"We have a home in London’s Notting Hill and initially we had a number of objections, but now the local community is extremely understanding and supportive.
"The people in Edgbaston have a tremendous amount to offer because of the situation they are in and could provide much support and experience to these young people that they would value."
The young men that would use the Edgbaston unit will all be homeless and likely to have some kind of criminal record. Some will have suffered additional problems such as drug addiction, aggression or anti-social behaviour.
Before entering the centre they will have been through a series of courses to teach them life skills. Once in the unit they remain attached to a key worker. The trust says a member of staff will be on site at least seven hours a day and the accommodation under 24-hour CCTV monitoring.
Peter claims giving a home to such youngsters in an upmarket suburb like Edgbaston is part of reinforcing positive moves forward.
"They see Edgbaston as such an amazing place that they never thought they would live in. When they see the house their eyes light up. Their jaws hit the deck. They think ‘oh my God, can I really live here?’ It is such a big thing for them.
"These young people come from backgrounds where they have been told they are stupid. That they don’t belong. That they are worthless. What we are doing is putting things back in place to show they can achieve."
According to Peter, there is a responsibility upon local communities to show support to youngsters trying to turn their lives around.
"If you come from an environment where you feel ostracised then it is not surprising if you damage things. When you feel acceptance and belonging you don’t damage or hurt things.
"We are more than happy to work with the residents when we are in Church Road to show the type of work we do and what part they can play in that if they want to - it is not a requirement."
Above all, however, Peter claims the project is about giving youngsters a second chance in life.
"One of the statements we make is ‘don’t judge me by the mistakes I have made but the person I am becoming’.
"These youngsters haven’t had the best start in life. It is certainly not a start most of us would choose for ourselves or our children.
"I believe when you put support mechanisms in place for young people they are able to respond and start moving in the right direction.