CHURCH shelters for the homeless have had to bring in new sanctions after guests have taken legal highs with devastating effects.

Volunteers from six churches in the area have been confronted with a number of potentially threatening moments in the past few months.

Paramedics had to be called to an incident at Shoebury Baptist Church after a homeless person took a legal high and collapsed, while on the same night last month two people were found to be hallucinating and started punching and barging into vehicles nearby.

On another occassion, legal highs were found in church toilets during a children's play session.

John Simmons, shelter coordinator, said: “It has been a shock this year that suddenly this is happening.

“It’s a health risk to our volunteers and a behavioural risk.

We haven’t had any violence from anyone but these substances make people unpredictable.

We are trying to deal with them when we are not trained.

“It’s a worry for us – not only from a health and safety aspect but it’s putting some of the volunteers off because they are having to deal with the consequences.”

The latest concerns over legal highs in the town follow an incident at South Essex College last year when a teenage boy was seen violently fitting in the street and suffering hallucinations after taking a suspected legal high in his lunch break.

The volunteers from the six churches offer refuge to rough sleepers during the winter months, but are untrained to deal with those suffering the effects of legal highs.

In a two-week period last month volunteers were recording an incident “most evenings”

relating to suspected legal high consumption.

The situation got so bad anyone seen taking the substances in the shelter is now ejected and banned for a week. Those dealing are ejected and banned for the rest of the season.

Mr Simmons added: “We then took a very strong stance at the shelters and read the riot act to anyone coming in.

“We know they are on sale in Southend, but the police can’t do anything as they are legal.

“They are cheaper then illegal drugs and the police can’t do anything about it. The effects seem to be just as bad though.

“When we started cracking down it seemed to reduce the number quite dramatically.

Maybe we have an incident once or twice a week now.”


LEGAL highs should be banned in public places, according to Mr Simmons.

He has called on Southend Council to follow in the footsteps of Lincoln City Council, which has become the first council in the country to ban the substances in public places.

The city council voted to bring in a Public Space Protection Order – a new type of power aimed at tackling antisocial behaviour.

Mr Simmons said: “It’s a very good idea. It sends the message out that using legal highs will not be tolerated.

“There is a counter argument that it could drive the use underground but I think we should give it a go.”

Ian Gilbert, deputy leader of Southend Council and councillor responsible for community support, said: “I had a meeting with the police and other partners a couple of days ago and we spoke about this very issue.

“The council is looking into how much of a problem it is and what can be done about it. Councils don’t have the power to ban things willy-nilly.

“We need to look at what grounds of legislation other councils have got.”