A Walthamstow “safe village” sheltering homeless people during lockdown is being told to shut down by the council.

Project Parker, situated off Wood Street, sheltered 29 people and fed around 50 every day, even offering a TV and with plans to offer classes teaching English.

Waltham Forest Council objected to the unauthorised use of the former dairy depot because of an “increased risk of anti-social behaviour” and “unacceptable noise and disturbance”, as well as hygiene and safety concerns.

In a letter to the building’s owner, who was happy to host the project, the council threatened to serve an enforcement notice if it was not shut down.

'This is not the time to be throwing them back on the street'

A petition to save Project Parker, started by a volunteer named Helen, has been signed more than 400 times.

Helen writes: “From my work here, it is clear; the pressure on the homeless is not over yet. In fact, it seems to be getting worse. This is not the time to be throwing them back on the street.

“Whilst not a permanent solution, Project Parker provides our homeless community with a safe, comfortable, and most importantly private space to stay well and isolated, until a more permanent solution can be found for them by the Waltham Forest Council.

“So far, 17 guests have been found semi-permanent accommodation - through the council, other organisations, or having been reunited with family - but a further 29 are currently staying at Project Parker as they await allocation by the council.”

A council spokesperson confirmed numbers at the site were now reducing since the council threatened to take action.

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Cllr Louise Mitchell, responsible for housing and homelessness prevention, said officers were on site offering alternative accommodation to those with ties to the borough and referring those without to the Greater London Authority.

She said: “We have been in contact with the owners and managers of the old dairy site in Wood Street following concerns from residents in the area around a homeless camp set up in the yard.

“We have serious concerns about the safety and suitability of this encampment, in particular the lack of suitable fire precautions. The site also has no washing facilities and no proper arrangements for social distancing and basic hygiene.

“We are also concerned around the apparent lack of DBS checks on those working with some of the vulnerable people living on the site.

“We have a responsibility to ensure not only the safety of those on the site but also the residents that live in the local area. We continue to try and work with those living and working on the site to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all concerned.”

The letter sent to the building’s owner mentions the lack of insulation or fireproofing on temporary wooden structures and “unacceptable noise and disturbance for local business and residents”.

It claims the project has caused “an increased risk of anti-social behaviour” in and around the site and “distress to the residents of, and visitors to, the surrounding areas”.

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Cllr Mitchell added: “Since the beginning of April, Waltham Forest Council has offered all rough sleepers with ties to the borough temporary accommodation.

“We are now working hard with these 58 individuals to provide them with help and support on a range of issues and to ensure they can move to more permanent accommodation.

“This not only includes support around housing but also access to a GP as well as mental health and other medical services.

“If you are concerned about someone who is sleeping rough in your area, please use the Tell Streetlink smartphone app to connect them with local support services who can not only help getting someone off the streets, but can also keep them from having to return to the streets.”

The petition set up for the project can be found here and a donation link can be found here.

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