YMCA overdose victims claim 'neglectful support service' at Welwyn Garden City facility

The YMCA in Peartree Lane, Welwyn Garden City.

The YMCA in Peartree Lane, Welwyn Garden City. - Credit: Google Streetview

Former residents of a Welwyn Garden City supported living service have contacted this newspaper alleging woeful misconduct at the facility. 

After a spate of Class A overdoses at the YMCA in Peartree Lane on August 19, two men have alleged that the service - which claims to support vulnerable people and costs almost £300 per week - is actually facilitating drug use.

Former YMCA tenant Alex Clarke ended up in hospital with several of other residents of the project after contaminated heroin was used at the hostel.

Alex, who said he did not use drugs or alcohol before he lived at the YMCA, found a resident drug dealer within hours of moving in after being made homeless. 

He claims the organisation is fully aware of when people are using drugs and residents openly smoke cannabis without consequence, even though it is a breach of their license agreement.

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Another former resident of the YMCA hostel, Grant Bierton, a ventilation engineer, lived there for four months.

Grant says he had not used Class A drugs for 10 years prior to being housed at the supported accommodation. 

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He too overdosed on heroin mixed with fentanyl on the same night as Alex.

Grant said: "I did mine in my room. I came round and I couldn't walk. I rang Alex and Alex then collapsed and hit his head on the bedside table. Another resident rang the ambulance for both of us."

A spokesperson from YMCA said: "We have a very strict policy relating to substance misuse at all of our hostels, which includes close working relationships with police and other statutory services.

"All residents are fully vetted by the police prior to admission and we maintain a constant watch for any drug dealing or supply behaviour.

"However circumstances can change and the vulnerable nature of our residents can make them a target for larger and more powerful drug dealers and gangs from within the wider community.

"This position then requires our team to carefully assess and balance the risk of immediate eviction - potentially increasing risk to the individual and others in the community - versus us investing in additional support and help to address the situation.

"In all cases the safety of our residents and the community around us is of paramount importance and we do everything we can to ensure no drug dealing takes place at our hostels. As such there is no easy supply of crack and heroin at our hostel and our efforts to eliminate it continue on a consistent and continuous basis.

"The issue of synthetic opioid risk was brought to the attention of charities and housing providers across Hertfordshire by Public Health England equally.

"As such to ensure the safety of all our residents, including those more vulnerable residents (who may have been targeted by those supplying such substances) a wide reaching awareness campaign was launched. This included enhanced supervision, specialist advice and enhanced supervision across all hostels."

Grant and Alex are now being supported by drug and alcohol service Resolve in Hatfield.

Grant said: "I am now at Resolve and they have done more for me in the last two weeks than the YMCA did in four months." 

Both were homeless as a result of the overdose incident and neither speak highly of their time there.

Alex said: "I had to go outside for a shower. Even in prison you don't have to do that."

The YMCA's response to the shower issue was that as a charity they are currently finalising a redevelopment plan to invest around £14 million into the local area, bringing forward a brand new sector leading hostel. They added: "This is a long standing project which will bring new homes, jobs and investment into the area.

"Unfortunately Covid has considerably impacted the intended commencement of the redevelopment, originally due to commence in spring 2021.

"Regrettably this has then coincided with breakdown on one of the older pieces of heating equipment, with no parts readily available.

"To ensure the minimal inconvenience for residents a temporary shower facility, of the type used by gyms and sporting events, has been sourced and located on site.

"This is a short term solution whilst our assets team procure and install a more permanent fix that will reinstate the usual hot water supply system, scheduled to be completed in the next two weeks."

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