Residents in one of Malta’s most affluent neighbourhoods oppose a project led by Valletta’s Soup Kitchen Foundation’s Fr Marcellino Micallef to turn a townhouse in George Borg Olivier Street, Sliema, into a residential institution sheltering young homeless people.
The application to open the shelter, which would host up to 15, was filed in August and has already elicited tens of objections at the Planning Authority.
A meeting for residents was held last week between Sliema residents and Fr Marcellino, but residents could not be swayed, reiterating to The Shift that they do not want any sort of social project in their street.
“We are not against any social project intended to help disadvantaged people, but we don’t want it in our street,” one of the objecting neighbours told The Shift.
Another complained: “From so many locations around the country, why did they choose one of the ‘best’ streets in Sliema?”
A one-bedroom apartment on George Borg Oliver Street can start at some €300,000, making it one of the country’s most expensive and exclusive addresses.
Another resident opposing the plans told The Shift they believe it is some kind of scam designed by a businessman who wants to use the social dimension as a smokescreen to allow them to reach other business objectives, such as turning it into a guesthouse in future.
Neighbours also claimed that the same businessman, who they named as Nigel Scerri, originally bought the townhouse to turn it into a hotel but was refused by the Planning Authority.
Research by The Shift through the Planning Authority’s web server found that no planning permits to turn the house into a hotel or a guest house were ever submitted, let alone decided.
‘This is no soup kitchen’ – Foundation
Questioned by The Shift over this initiative, a spokesman for the Soup Kitchen Foundation explained that the project does not involve opening a soup kitchen like the one in Valletta, as is being claimed.
“Our project is a residential one where we will be offering some 15 youths who were abandoned by their parents and put into an orphanage a temporary shelter until they can stand on their own two feet without any more help,” the spokesman said.
“What we have applied for is to adjust the townhouse into a residential place for these unfortunate children,” he said.
“Currently, those in orphanages end up practically homeless when they reach 16 years of age, as that is until when they are taken care of by the existing institutions. Through this new residence, we will be offering a helping hand and solving part of that problem,” the spokesman added.
“We cannot really understand what the problem is with having some 15 youngsters living in the Sliema community. These are not criminals but ‘children’ who need help. What’s wrong in all this?” the Foundation representative asked.
The spokesman dismissed allegations that a businessman was involved and may be using the Foundation for his own business intentions.
“These are all lies, and we have already explained the situation to the objectors. However, it seems they don’t want to listen,” he said.
Nigel Scerri, the owner of the townhouse and who will be giving its use to the foundation for the next 15 years, free of change, is a member of the Foundation’s administration and is doing this as “an act for charity”, the Foundation’s spokesperson said.
Insisting that there is already a hotel on the same road and many other businesses, the spokesman said that Scerri did not need the Foundation to turn his townhouse into another business.
Scerri is the CEO of a financial services firm based in Msida and, according to the Foundation, has bought this townhouse to help the Soup Kitchen Foundation.
The Planning Authority is still assessing the application.