A 21-year-old homeless woman was killed on Saturday night when a large spruce tree fell on the tent she was living in. Police said that three other people were injured by the tree which was brought down in the severe weather that lashed parts of the country at the weekend.
Last Thursday night, in terrible weather, colleagues from BHT, CRI, local authorities and the police did the annual headcount of rough sleepers in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. In Brighton the new official figure was 43, up six from the previous year. There is a general consensus that the actual number is probably nearer 60.
Why is it in this day and age, in one of the richest countries in the world, do we still have people living on the streets?
There is some brilliant work going on by many agencies, and CRI’s No Second Night Out initiative is the latest in a long line of services that help people make that transition from street homelessness into accommodation. The worker in this particular initiative has, over the last three months, engaged with 31 individuals , 30 of whom she has got into accommodation.
As we approach Christmas, members of the public are extremely generous to organisations such as BHT. In fact, we rely on this generosity to sustain us throughout the year. People are more inclined to donate at this time because it is the Season of Goodwill and because of the appalling weather that we are now experiencing.
Even though we are having gales blow down trees and flooding across the country, this is not regarded in government circles as “severe weather” and homeless people remain on the streets. Successive governments have had a policy that emergency provision only comes into being if the forecast has temperatures falling to below freezing for three consecutive nights. Two nights of freezing weather, no emergency shelters. Gales and flooding, similarly, no emergency shelter.
It is time that the government rethinks its policy for emergency shelters at times of severe weather. Last Saturday’s tragedy could have been avoided.
Actually, a lot more is needed. We need to put an end to rough sleeping once and for all.