The Choir with No Name performing at The Dome & raising funds for BHT

choir-with-no-name-logoOn the evening of Tuesday 20th December, the Brighton Dome will be filled with festive cheer in one of the musical highlights of the yuletide season! The Choir with No Name, a charity that runs choirs for homeless and marginalised people, bring their two London choirs to Brighton for a special one-off event – The Big Christmas Singalong.

What’s On London said of The Choir with No Name: “My advice: if you get the chance to see the choir in action, don’t hesitate!”

From Fairytale of New York to Rockin’ Robin, join in with all your Christmas favourites and be part of a unique, feel-good event that’s sure to get your bells jingling.

 Proceeds from the evening will benefit the Choir with No Name and Brighton Housing Trust.

Book your tickets (£12, £8 concessions) at brightondome.org

The Stories behind BHT’s Christmas Appeal Videos

Yesterday (2nd December) BHT launched its Christmas Appeal video. In recent years BHT has tried to make videos at Christmas that explain a bit about our work and to encourage viewers to make a donation towards the work of our day centre, First Base.

First Base runs at a loss and the income we generate at Christmas time not only helps us to provide services at this time of year but throughout the year. People are, understandably, more generous in the run up to Christmas.

Two years ago the message of the video contrasted the reaction of the public’s love of animals and concern for people living on the streets. It suggested that there would be an outcry if there were 130 dogs abandoned on the streets of Brighton and Hove, but there wasn’t a similar outcry about the 130 people sleeping on the streets.

That video cost nothing to make, filmed as it was on my iPad and featured my beautiful little Yorkie, Daisy. It was quite amateurish – I can say so because it was all my own work! Please don’t try to donate on the numbers given as they no longer work. Details of how you can support us can be found at the end of this post.

Last year we shifted the focus away from rough sleeping, asking the question “Who would you turn to?” telling the story of a family losing their home in the run up to Christmas. The producers used the opening of an Advent Calendar to illustrate the rapid decline in the fortunes of this household. There was a lot of artistic licence and, fortunately, there are enough safeguards to ensure that legal evictions cannot happen as rapidly as portrayed. (If you are facing eviction please contact our advice centres in Brighton, Eastbourne or Hastings).

The film itself was very professionally produced and directed and, although it was widely praised, it did provoke a few negative comments including one suggesting that if BHT could afford to pay for such a slick film, we didn’t really need the money. The reality, of course, was that the film makers and all the actors donated their time and expertise for nothing.

This year the message is simple and very hard hitting. It focuses, once again, on rough sleeping. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t yet seen it.

Again it did not cost us nothing thanks to the generosity of Barbara Myers and Paul Loman from Homegrown Films who donated their time and expertise, not to mention the bubbly, crackers, and food. The original idea came from my colleague, Jo Berry. The ‘actors’ were my colleagues, Rob Robinson, Sharon Munnings, Daniel O’Connell and Sam Oliver, and I couldn’t resist assuming the role of director. The first part – the Christmas dinner scene originally took 23 seconds. After several rehearsals and run throughs (34 actually) we got it down to 7 seconds.

The BHT Christmas videos, you could call them adverts, might not be on a par with the M&S or Aldi adverts, but they have the same aim – to get you to part with some money. But unlike the other adverts, we are asking you to give to a good cause, to provide some comfort, warmth and companionship to those people living on the streets of Brighton and Hove this Christmas.

To support the BHT Christmas Appeal:

  • Donate through our website
  • Text BHTF50 £(amount) to 70070
  • Send a cheque payable to ‘Brighton Housing Trust’ to 144 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4PH.

Thank you.

A shocking reminder of quite how bad the homelessness crisis is in Brighton

A report was published this week by Shelter that highlighted the high numbers of homeless people in the south east and in Brighton and Hove in particular. It said that there are:

  • Total number of homeless people: 4,095
  • Number of rough sleepers: 78 (although most homelessness services believe the figure is around 140 at present)
  • Number of people living in temporary accommodation: 4,017

This equates to one person in 69 in Brighton and Hove being homeless.

I was asked for a comment by the Brighton and Hove Independent. Here is what I said, published in the paper today (2nd December 2016):

“This is a sobering reminder, if any was needed, that we are facing a housing crisis of an unprecedented scale. In Brighton and Hove, one in 69 people are homeless, some 4,100 individuals. This number is made up of the 140 rough sleepers as well as the 1,800 children living in temporary and emergency accommodation and their families.

“Sadly government policy, focused as it has been for too long on home ownership, is not addressing the real need – to build homes with social rents that people can afford. Only by doing that will we provide the homes that people need and at the same time bring the housing benefit bill under some sort of control.

“Will we see the radical change in the government’s housing policy that is needed? I’m not holding my breath. Meanwhile, the homelessness and affordability crisis is likely to get much worse.”

While I am about it, if you would like to support the work of First Base Day Centre this Christmas, you can do so here

Brighton and Hove City Council Budget: My Reaction

brighton-hove-council-logoBrighton and Hove City Council published its budget at 3pm yesterday (30th November). I have reviewed it from BHT’s perspective and have a few observations.

But first, I want to recognise the huge challenges facing councillors. They are trying to cope with unprecedented reductions in funding from central government. I would start by paying tribute to the work of councillors. They will get a lot of criticism, personally and collectively, as well as some personal abuse for making tough decisions caused by circumstances for which they are not responsible. That is unfair.

Of course I am most concerned about homeless people and other vulnerable groups, be they people with mental health and/or substance misuse problems, those escaping domestic violence, and so on.

There are other things that will impact of council budgets, again over which councillors have no control. Welfare reform, not least the benefit cap of £20,000 on households, will see more families losing their homes in high cost areas like Brighton and Hove. There will be greater demands on homelessness services, and the City Council will have statutory responsibility to house many of these households.

All this means that homeless prevention services, like those BHT provides through our advice centres in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, become ever more important. Last year we prevented 2,055 households from becoming homeless.

Can you imagine what would happen if we were not there?

The Council has produced a detailed 98 page summary of its budget proposals. It details cuts, the risk arising from funding reductions, and an assessment of the impact and outcomes of doing so.

There are things I welcome:

  • There are no further cuts proposed in hostel accommodation for homeless people on top of the cuts already announced.
  • There are no reductions in homelessness prevention.
  • There is no reduction proposed in the excellent Mental Health Team for Homeless People.
  • And there is no further reductions proposed in funding for specialist support services given the considerable cuts made in recent years.

There is recognition that recommissioned services are supporting the delivery of the City Council’s Rough Sleeping Strategy to which BHT is an enthusiastic signatory.

Savings of £356,000 proposed from the cost of providing temporary accommodation for homeless households out of Brighton and Hove is ambitious and not without risk and not without its problems such as loss of support structures, disruption to schooling, and so on, but I am reassured that the Council is looking at positive inducements for people to agree to these placements.

A further saving of £550,000 is proposed by prioritising households in temporary accommodation for social housing. If this can be achieved, then it will be good news for families, especially those of the 1,800 children in temporary and emergency accommodation. Inevitably, though, if one group gets greater access to social housing, others will lose out, but from a social and financial perspective, this is a proposal I support.

I do have some big concerns.

There is a proposed £470,000 reduction in funding to the third/charity sector through the new Third Sector Investment Programme. Many small community groups might struggle to survive without this funding. These cuts might also be a false economy. For example, cuts to BHT’s Brighton Advice Centre might see a reduction in the prevention of homelessness resulting in much more costly interventions that the City Council will, by law, have to provide.

First Base Day Centre currently receives a modest £20,000 from this source.  It is essential funding that allows us to continue to provide the services we do to those sleeping rough of our streets.

I was encouraged that the Council is looking at ways of reducing these savings.

I have a mixed reaction to proposals to save £600,000 from community substance misuse services.

The main provider of the Pavilions Partnership, Cranston, has negotiated a reduction in its funding in return for a longer contract. This is commendable.

The proposed £138,000 cut in funding for residential rehab services could be a decision the City might come to regret. If it is to reduce out of area placements I would be quite relaxed about that given that these are rarely effective and a lot of money has been wasted in the past. (People achieving abstinence out of area have limited prospects of remaining abstinent if they return to the City without support structures that are provided in abundance and voluntarily for those who achieve abstinence through a Brighton/Hove based service).

If there is a reduction in funding to the two local residential rehab services provided by the St Thomas Fund and through BHT’s Addiction Services, then I would be very, very worried.

BHT’s Addiction Services are amongst the most effective anywhere in Britain. It is no exaggeration to say that if this service was to be compromised, there will be an increase in drug-related deaths.

I hope that councillors are being well advised regarding this.

Selma Montford – a true servant to Brighton, its architecture and its people

(This is the text of a letter I had published in the Brighton Argus, 30th November 2016)

I am sure that I will not be the only one who wishes to pay tribute to Selma Montford as she steps down from the Brighton Society (Argus, 26 November 2016).

Selma has been an outstanding servant to Brighton and its architectural heritage for almost half a century. Whether you have agreed with her or not (and we have had our disagreements over the years), one cannot but admire her and have total respect for the integrity with which she has fought to preserve the values she holds so dear.

I hope that Brighton and Hove will find a suitable way of recognising her contribution, perhaps by giving her the Freedom of the City although, given what the City has become, it might not be something that Selma would want.

On a more personal note, Selma has long been a supporter of Brighton Housing Trust showing that she cares not just for Brighton’s buildings but also its people, not least the ones with nowhere to live.

Thank you, Selma.

Launch of BHT’s Christmas Appeal

This Christmas we ask that you remember the men and women who are sleeping rough on the streets of Brighton.

For most of us, Christmas is a fun time of year involving family get togethers,  presents, too much to eat and drink, awful jumpers and cheesy films.

If you are sleeping rough or are homeless,  it can be the most miserable and lonely time of the year. A bitter reminder of what you haven’t got, what you’ve lost or what you’ve never had…

christmas-appealThroughout this festive period BHT’s First Base Day Centre offers comfort to local homeless men and women with a month of Christmas events, food
and activities.

First Base is the only project for homeless men and women in the City to remain open over the Christmas and New Year period.

In the weeks before Christmas service users decorate the Centre and help with cooking mince pies and sorting through donations of scarves, gloves, hats, socks ready to give to those who need them.

A couple of days before Christmas we serve a traditional Christmas dinner to people who are sleeping rough in the city,  along with entertainment and games. We also provide a cooked breakfast and a warm welcome on Christmas morning, for people who have literally nowhere to go and no one to spend Christmas with.

The work of BHT, and specifically First Base Day Centre, relies on the goodwill of people from the local community.

The money raised will go towards the much needed services at First Base which literally change lives and move people away from the streets. Please give generously this Christmas to ensure we can reach everyone who needs us.

You can donate through our JustGiving page or you can send me a cheque made payable to ‘Brighton Housing Trust’ c/o BHT, 144 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4PH.  Thank you for your support.

Has the extension of the Right to Buy to housing associations hit the buffers?

I have been, and remain, highly critical of the government’s intention to extend the Right to Buy to housing associations. I felt that not only was it ethically wrong and economically flawed, I felt it had been a policy worked out on the back of an envelope. The pledge for a one-for-one replacement has never really been credible and, especially for small associations like BHT, deliverable. The government had clearly not worked out how much it would cost and how it would be paid for.

It is an expensive policy that helps those who are already adequately housed. It has nothing to do with tackling the housing crisis and everything to do with appealing to an electoral demographic.

The funding plan (“I have a cunning plan” said Baldrick) was to get councils to sell off high-value council homes and to pay a levy to the Treasury.

I feel sorry for the Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, who has had to pick up this flawed policy from his predecessor. It is a shame the National Housing Federation has hitched its wagon so clearly to this runaway train.

As part of the Autumn Statement the government has pushed back implementation for a year and the Minister has announced the launch next year of a five year regional pilot. This can be viewed in two ways: first that the government is being cautious, wanting to get the detail right, or second, that it is quietly trying to kill off this ridiculous policy and pushing it into the long grass might be a quiet way of doing just that.

Mr Barwell would gain lots of plaudits if he was to put the policy out of its misery. He has nothing to lose and plenty to gain. The National Housing Federation, however, might end up with egg on its face.