This interview appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent on Friday 18th October 2013:
BHT is celebrating its 45th birthday this month, an occasion that Andy Winter argues isn’t one to celebrate. He would much rather the need for BHT services had disappeared many years ago, that poverty was a thing of the past and that homelessness no longer existed.
Andy has worked for BHT for 28 years, the last 11 of those as BHT’s Chief Executive. Here he talks about homelessness, the startling disparity between the haves and have not’s and how his privileged education led him to a life fight for social justice and helping people to come back from ‘the edge’.
B&HI: You have worked in housing and homelessness for 28 years now. What led you into this line of work?
AW: ”I always had a strong sense of social justice, from as far back as my South African childhood where I became very aware of the disparity between wealth and poverty. When I moved to England in 1979 I could see that there was a clear divide between the haves and have not’s.
“You have those living in comfort, those who are surviving and then those who are living on the edge. It’s the final group who can get tipped over the edge. In my experience, the longer people are over the edge the harder it is to come back.
“I am a bit of an idealist. I believe we can create opportunities for people so that they can have some control of their lives and come back from homelessness, addiction, and so on.”
You must have seen a lot of changes over the years. How did homelessness look 28 years ago? Have the issues around housing and homelessness changed?
“I think a lot of the same issues are still there. But some things have vastly improved, better provision, co-operation between agencies, client involvement, whilst others have certainly got worse too.”
What has got worse?
“The main issue is the lack of affordable housing today. Even so called affordable housing is beyond the reach of many people and accommodation in the private rented sector has become so prohibitively expensive that many people who don’t have a chance of getting social housing can’t even look to the private rented sector as an option.”
You will have seen many changes in government and policy over the years. Have there been any particularly difficult times?
“I think we are going through the most difficult time at the moment with the austerity measures that are affecting most parts of society. The options available to people are becoming fewer and fewer. We have yet to see the full fall out of the welfare reforms and I think things will get worse before they get better.”
You talk about how fortunate you are and some people might say you have made a career out of homelessness and other people’s misfortunes. What would you say to that?
“I have to accept that. I have been extremely fortunate for the life I have and it has been built to a certain extent on the misfortune of others. It is an ethical struggle for me.
“My schooling in South Africa was very privileged. We were taught to believe that we were going to be the next generation of leaders. I think the key thing is how people use that privilege. I challenge my self regularly and ask whether I am using the opportunities and education I have for the best benefit of society and I think the answer is yes. I believe I am providing the right leadership for BHT.
“It is an honour to lead BHT because BHT makes a difference to the communities in which we work and to the lives of many thousands of clients each year.”