IF EVER there were a symbol of Torbay's compassion for our destitute it is the hostel in Factory Row.
It opened 20 years ago because of a crisis on our streets. Local churches worked with Torbay Council, community groups and charities to provide a single male dormitory for rough sleepers.
Three years ago the ramshackle buildings were demolished and a purpose-built homeless hostel erected on the site costing £3million. The Leonards Stocks Centre, is now a flagship project, with 24 rooms for men and women. It is always full, often with a waiting list, doing amazing work to help vulnerable people back into stable lives.
And yet this wonderful centre, which has seen so much community investment, is facing closure because the mayor will not provide sufficient funds.
The news is devastating because in a single act of social vandalism, a frontline service which is genuinely life-saving will end. Where will people go? What will the route out of homelessness be in future? Where will recovery start? You can't begin to address alcohol addiction, mental health problems and family breakdown while living in a cardboard box.
The closure of the hostel will just result in chaos for other services. With the safety net gone, rough sleepers will end up in A&E, police custody, psychiatric units and residential homes. All of these are far more expensive than a room at a hostel.
The mayor has to make savings, but this a false economy. The mayor is keen to 'clean-up the town', but this will lead to more crime, street drunkenness and the depressing sight of people camping in doorways.
Last winter a rough sleeper died in Totnes and another in Exeter.
I fear the mayor has been influenced by those who from the day the hostel opened 20 years ago have willed its closure. One of the reasons the Friends of Factory Row was founded was to encounter the endless ill-informed prejudice towards our client group. One night, many years ago, a gang of youths surrounded it, banging on windows shouting 'paedos, druggies' and a familiar chant: 'go back to where you came from'.
But overwhelmingly, hostel residents are from Torbay (you cannot get in without a local connection) and they are from all walks of life. There is no stereotype and yet the abuse continues.
So what happens now? The Friends of Factory Row will be playing a central part in mobilising support for the hostel. Next week we will be launching our Torbay SOS (Save Our Services) campaign.
I know those who care about social justice in Torbay will join us, across the political divide and across the denominations. In the words of the old hymn: "We shall overcome."
In a holiday resort of 7,000 hotel rooms, if Torbay can't provide 24 beds for members of our own community in a crisis, it is a crying shame.