Today the Brighton Argus ran a challenging article that asked whether homelessness had become an industry. It cannot make easy reading for anyone who works with homeless people.
The Argus article, understandably, reflected the number of staff employed by each agency and gave a ratio of one agency for every 23 homeless person in Brighton. The situation is a bit more involved than that. Homelessness takes many forms and the prevention of homelessness and dealing with its consequences is quite complex.
The three main agencies working with homeless people in Brighton and Hove, CRI, Sussex Central YMCA and BHT, do a lot of work preventing homelessness, from helping young people return home when it is safe to do so, supporting people with mental health problems, tackling addiction to alcohol and drugs, and helping people into accommodation, training, education and employment.
If it wasn’t for these three organisations, who all work very closely with Brighton and Hove City Council, the numbers on the street (the visible manifestation of homelessness) would be much, much higher.
Take the No Second Night Out initiative, funded by central government, which aims to ensure that those new to rough sleeping are helped before they become entrenched in sleeping on the streets. In the last year, the local partnership in Brighton has helped almost 50 off the streets. This is good news for the City, for health and other public services, and for the individual themselves.
As for the Argus article, here is my full statement in response to the question as to whether there are too many homelessness charities in Brighton and Hove:
“The obvious answer is ‘yes’. When BHT was set up in 1968 our founders would have been appalled to think that we would still be needed in 2013, and that our services are needed as much today as ever.
“There are more than three dozen charities working with homeless men and women in the city, a far cry from those early days. On a positive note, it means that clients have wider choice, and if one of us is providing a service that is not wanted or not effective, clients will vote with their feet. It also means that there is less chance of an individual falling through a gap in services.
“But I have two main concerns about the plethora of homelessness charities. The first is the matter of standards. Are all charities working to the highest possible ethical and professional standards? And are they all working to end homelessness rather than sustain people on the streets?
“The second concern relates to the cost of running all these charities. Each will have its own overheads, its separate premises, its senior staff. Through a rationalisation of the sector, savings can be made and the cuts we are all experiencing could be mitigated meaning that reductions in front line delivery could be avoided.
“My ambition is to see the end of homelessness services, not because of austerity, but because we, as the seventh largest economy in the world, have put an end to people being homeless. Sadly, I don’t think I will see that in my lifetime.”