A coffee shop that helps the needy and homeless has been forced to keep its doors closed this week after squatters invaded.
It means the YMCA Fountain community coffee shop is unable to help the homeless people that it normally serves up to on a daily basis.
Instead the squatters - four men and one woman - are helping themselves to the food and drink inside.
A spokesman for YMCA Bedfordshire said: “While YMCA Bedfordshire is, of course, sympathetic to the needs of these individuals who have occupied our premises, we are also concerned for the wellbeing of the many people who rely on the services and support provided by the YMCA Fountain and its staff. For the last three years it has run a suspended coffee scheme providing free food and beverages to those in need.”
Police were called to the Thurlow Street venue yesterday (Monday) after reports of squatters on the roof of the building but no action was taken.
It is understood that at least one of the squatters has stayed at the YMCA’s hostel in the past.
The charity spokesman said: “It is a little bit ironic but perhaps we are the best people to help them.”
Under current law, squatting in a commercial property is not a criminal offence, which means if people do not move on willingly the landlord must go through the courts to obtain an eviction notice.
“I think whilst eviction sometimes seems a little bit harsh there are reasons why sometimes you need to regain access to a premises, so it’s for the greater good,” said the YMCA’s spokesman.
“We are physically talking to them and they are talking to different people using our phone.
“It is disappointing that they have resorted to this.
“They have said that it was opportunist so I don’t think they are hunting around town for places to get into but I do think they are trying to raise awareness. I don’t know why they couldn’t raise awareness through less sensational means.”
He said the charity hopes to reopen the coffee shop as soon as possible - perhaps by the end of the week or early next week.
“All YMCA’s services seek to support those who are marginalised and we face a challenging time finding a mutually agreeable outcome for this incident,” he said.
“We will be working with other local homeless service providers to help those individuals who are eligible for local housing support. Situations like this highlight the very real impact of cuts to public funding in the areas of mental health, criminal justice and substance dependency.”