NAYSAYERS have been urged to give Malvern homeless services more time to prove their worth despite no rough sleepers having used a new emergency shelter since it opened a month ago.

Campaign group Hugo’s Earthquake have criticised plans to launch Maggs Malvern Day Centre – which will cost £25,000 just to set up – and instead want more funding put into reinstating a “comprehensive outreach service”.

Chairman of Maggs trustees, Mel Akers, has reiterated, however, that the proposed scheme is a one-year pilot project and believes there are more than a dozen people in Malvern who would benefit.

While Malvern Hills District Council director for housing and communities, Stephen Gabriel, said rough sleepers in the area “are particularly difficult to engage with and it takes time to build relationships”.

It is hoped the new centre will be open by April 2020, with £10,000 having been secured from the Big Lottery Fund and a further £5,000 set aside by the council, among other benefactors.

Three extra emergency shelters were launched this winter in the county, in line with Worcestershire’s Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP), including in Malvern’s Salvation Army base in Newtown Road.

These facilities open their doors to rough sleepers when the temperature drops below zero – however, since the protocol was first put in place this winter on November 8, no-one has accessed the Malvern shelter.

Hugo’s Earthquake, launched by former University of Worcester student Hugo Sugg in 2015 to campaign for more efficient homelessness services, believes this proves that money being spent on the proposed day centre is unjustified.

Ted Jeffery, campaign spokesman, said, having assessed the business case for the centre, the group is “unable to find actual evidence to the support the project”.

A grant application for the centre cited the 735 food vouchers redeemed from Malvern Foodbank – many of which were repeat visits – suggests more than 100 accommodated people will benefit from the pilot scheme, on top of any rough sleepers who reside in Malvern.

But Mr Jeffery said: “Foodbank use is not a reliable evidence base for street homeless numbers, so why is this used in a business case?

“İt is clear that there is no evidence that rough sleepers are attracted to Malvern because of services and this is backed up furthermore by no rough sleepers attending the SWEP shelters.

“The HEC does not believe a Maggs Centre is needed in Malvern, but instead we continue to call for reinstatement of the comprehensive outreach service which functions across the county,” he added.

But Mr Gabriel said: “Despite our efforts to promote the availability of our emergency shelter, including appealing for public help reporting rough sleepers, we have had nobody attend to date.”

He said, however, that the shelter has only been opened for three nights so “it is too early to make a judgement on how successful it has or has not been”.

“We have just completed our annual rough sleeper estimate and although the official figures will not be released until January, we can say it shows a significant increase in people sleeping rough on 2018.

“We are therefore confident that there is a need for both the emergency shelter and the day centre, which will be open for half a day, twice a week.”

He said because rough sleepers in the district are difficult to engage with it will take time for them to be “comfortable accepting the help we offer”.

“That is why the day centre is also important, as it will help with building that confidence and trust.

“We already have an established outreach service and we are looking for additional investment to strengthen it further,” he added.

Ms Akers said: “We have made it clear this is a one year pilot project that will support vulnerable as well as homeless people.

“Our outreach service has worked with more than a dozen people in Malvern in the past 12 months.”

The facility will have shower and laundry facilities and provide simple meals for breakfast and lunch to encourage people in greatest need to come there.

The plan was escalated following the death of rough sleeper Joby Sparrey, whose body was found in the doorway of Brays department store on Christmas Day last year.