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Tory Government refuse planning permission for homeless shelter

Dover soup kitchen will shut before Christmas after complaints by TWO residents.
A lifeline for the homeless will shut at the end of this month after Dover District Council refused to grant planning permission.
Volunteers have run a soup kitchen in Dover for 26 years, serving food from a port-a-cabin to homeless, vulnerable and elderly individuals.

Volunteers have kept the soup kitchen going for more than two decades

Kent Live news reports that the council has demanded the soup kitchen leave its site in Pencester Road car park by November 30, citing a rise in complaints – the majority of two disgruntled residents.

The authority has also declined to relocate the service to another part of Dover, forcing volunteers to dish out food from their car boots from December onwards.

Soup kitchen organiser Judith Shilling said: "We're dismayed the council appears to have scant regard for the plight of the homeless and other people in need in the community.

"They've also shown little support for the many soup kitchen volunteers who are simply trying to help others."

After months of appeals to the district council and the Port of Dover, the group are unable to find a new location.

The town already suffers a lack of services for the vulnerable – relying entirely on volunteer services to feed and clothe people in need.

The soup kitchen is currently open throughout the week from 6pm to 6.40pm in Pencester Road car park.

In a review of the soup kitchen, DDC said: "The main conclusions were that the number of incidents of antisocial behaviour in the car park had risen significantly."

They added: "The recent levels are considered unacceptable in terms of public order and these incidents have impacted significantly on residents of houses immediately adjacent to the car park.

"Any future planning permission for the soup kitchen should be refused, on the grounds of adverse effect on the residential amenity of neighbours, by reason of noise, disturbance, and loss of privacy."

Originally, the soup kitchen was granted temporary planning permission for 18 months in May last year but this was subject to review 12 months later.

While the soup kitchen has led to a rise in complaints of anti-social behaviour, "the majority have been made by two local residents whose homes back onto the car park," admits DDC.

No council workers included in the review attended the service, or questioned its volunteers or people who use it, added the soup kitchen.

Read more: A teen's life was cut short when he crashed into back of van because of sunlight

In visits, Kent Live discussed antisocial behaviour at the kitchen with its volunteers and highlighted its importance to vulnerable people in Dover.

The service operates a strict "zero-tolerance" policy towards violence. Shutting the kitchen even after the "smallest incident".

Volunteer Lawrence Gage said: "We close the soup kitchen for a few days even after the small incident.

"Self-policing occurs among our clients to avoid the bad behaviour of a few compromising the benefit of the many.

"Far from encouraging anti-social behaviour, we provide a kind, friendly and needed service within a regulated structure. We help reduce anti-social behaviour."

Lawrence also noted volunteers and soup kitchen "clients" clean the inside and surrounding area of the port-a-cabin after it closes.

A Kent Live reporter visited the soup kitchen in Pencester Road Car Park and its past site in the former Russell Street Car Park – the location for the St James Development.

Soup kitchen organiser and former head teacher Liz Waller said: "It really is a community for these people who are shunned by the rest of society.

"We serve people with drug problems, alcohol problems, or simply those who find it hard to manage on their own. We never turn anybody away."

People at the soup kitchen ranged from homeless men and women to recovering drug addicts, people in the shelter and simply those who cannot afford food.

The service acts as a safety net for anybody unable to afford their next meal. Its volunteers even provide "clients" with clothing or a sleeping bag.

The soup kitchen added: "Our provision is entirely cost-free for DDC and it could be argued that it saves public money by provided help where it is needed."

What is certain is if the soup kitchen disappears, if a 28-year institution goes down the drain, it will leave a tear in Dover's social care, condemning the vulnerable to fall through the cracks.

Dover MP Charlie Elphicke demanded Dover District Council rethink their course of action.

He said: "I have raised my concerns with the district council and port about their helping to find a suitable location for the soup kitchen.

"As we move into December and enter the Christmas season, I would ask them both to reflect that this is the time of year for caring and compassion.

"They should ask themselves whether they can do more to help the needy and the homeless. I really hope that they will."

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