A HOMELESS support group which had been operating without permission has now been allowed to keep its Westcliff shelter open.

Off The Streets chose to open their shelter in London Road in September last year before being given permission by Southend Council.

They submitted a change of use application for the site, which has now finally been agreed this week – ten months after it opened.

Founder Kirsty Louise, 29, of Westcliff, said the group has also become a registered charity in the same week.

She said: “We’ve now been open for around 41 weeks and since then we have helped 48 different people.

“They’ve come to us, we’ve given them the support and guidance they need and they have moved on into their own housing.

“We’ve even got some of them coming back in the few months’ time to work as volunteers, so for many it’s come full circle for them, which is great.

“Southend Council initially didn’t want us to install a new shelter here, but now after talking with them and discussing it all they have let us go ahead with it. It’s really nice that we are now working on the same page as the council and they’re supporting us, because this is what Off The Streets is about; working with the community.”

She added: “Those who volunteer and help with us finf it gives them some purpose.

“For all this to happen in the same week as us becoming a registered charity is fantastic, and now we can carry on with the work we do.”

Although the shelter has won support from the council, not all are happy with its location.

Claire Higgins, a mum-of-two who lives in Beedell Avenue near the centre, said: “There have been occasions where three of the homeless people will have been sat on my garden wall, waiting for the shelter to open, drinking beer and cider, and the cans end up in my garden.

“They’ll be using language which I don’t want my children to hear.

“We all know that these people do need help, they have their addictions and problems, but within a highly built up area with schools nearby, this just isn’t the place for it.”

Ian Gilbert, leader of Southend Council with responsibility for housing, said: "The council has given this conditional consent based on planning policy and the law, after considering all relevant factors.

"I hope going forward we can build a constructive working relationship, as we all understand the need to help and support homeless people in the town."