There has been some discussion in the media regarding the increase in homelessness and rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove. On BBC Sussex today (Wednesday 27th July) it was reported that Sussex Police have said that the number of rough sleepers has increased from 42 to 72 over the last year, although the City Council’s estimate is that the figure is 42.
Meanwhile, the Brighton Argus has reported that “homeless people are heading to Brighton and Hove to escape a purge of London’s streets ahead of the Olympics. Charities have reported ‘harassment’ of rough sleepers in the capital as London mayor Boris Johnson looks to eradicate homelessness before the 2012 Games.”
I don’t know if that is actually happening, although I would be surprised if such an initiative had started this far out from the start of the Olympics which commence a year today.
I do know that homeless people were ‘removed’ from the streets in Atlanta and Sydney before previous Olympic Games, and I was in Cape Town last year just before the start of the Football World Cup and there was very definitely measures being taken to ensure that homeless people, particularly street children, were not in evidence.
The Olympics may see an increase in homeless people arriving in Brighton from London. But as likely, perhaps more likely, will be the combination of a number of factors (as well as traditional reasons for high demand such as people wanting to move to Brighton, students staying on after graduation, changing demographics and household sizes, etc.) that will see a significant increase in homelessness in Brighton and Hove. They include:
- Changes to the Local Housing Allowance
- Restrictions being placed on housing benefit eligibility for single people under the age of 35
- Inability of first time buyers to get a mortgage
- Anticipated increase in unemployment
- Changes to Legal Aid (that will exclude people from getting advice they need on welfare benefits, debt and many housing cases).
I have previously described this as the creation of a ‘Perfect Storm’. Most of these factors will come into effect in the next 12 months, and if the predictions relating to the Olympics come about, next summer will see a potentially explosive situation in Brighton.
I have confidence in the willingness and ability of Brighton and Hove City Council to try to mitigate this situation. We have been fortunate that both current and former administrations, indeed all parties, on the City Council have had a high commitment to addressing the challenges of housing and homelessness. I also think that there is better co-operation between all agencies than ever before. But in spite of this, the ‘Perfect Storm’ is being created outside of Brighton and Hove, and there is only so much that we collectively can do.
What is needed is a rethink by government of the impact of those measures for which they are responsible, and by the Mayor of London regarding fall-out from the London Games. Otherwise, we will see a Summer of Discontent next year.