I am delighted that the government is to back the Homelessness Reduction Bill

Bob Blackman MP

Bob Blackman MP

I have written on several occasions about the proposed Homelessness Reduction Bill that recently was introduced to parliament by the Conservative MP, Bob Blackman.

You can read what I have previously written here and here.

The government has now announced that it will be supporting the Bill, albeit in a slightly amended form, that aims to reduce homelessness. The new version of the Bill was published this week (25th October) and has taken into account representations made by a number of organisations.

One matter that concerned BHT was a paragraph that would allow local authorities to treat people as “intentionally homeless” if they felt that the household deliberately or unreasonably refused to cooperate.

I am delighted that this section has been removed as it didn’t take into account people who might be distressed or who find the bureaucracy of councils confusing and intimidating.

But also excluded from the latest version is a new duty that would have required councils to accommodate in temporary or emergency accommodation for 56 days anyone, including those not in ‘priority need’ who have a local connection and nowhere safe to stay.

The government feel that this provision has been removed because it would be too costly.

Of course I am disappointed about this. When the Conservative Grant Shapps was the Housing Minister, he championed the concept of No Second Night Out that was premised on the understanding that someone who sleeps rough for more than even one night quickly becomes entrenched and it is much harder to get them in off the street.

The duty on councils to accommodate people would have had an immediate impact on the number of people ending up as rough sleepers. It would have ticked the box about prevention rather than cure, and might well have proved to be cheaper in the long run.

But on balance, I think the Homelessness Reduction Bill is good news, although a small opportunity has been missed. Congratulations must go to Bob Blackman for his leadership on this matter.

Fab Change Day team visiting BHT at 2.30am on Thursday morning

Today (October 19th) is Fab Change Day and people working in healthcare, social care and General Practice around the country are pledging to change something to improve care and services within their area. There are events happening round the country.

In Brighton and Hove there will be a rather extraordinary event as leaders of Fab Change Day will be visiting a non-NHS facility to look at the health and care needs of homeless people when they visit Brighton Housing Trust’s First Base Day Centre … at 2.30am tomorrow morning.

The team are making a whistle stop tour of England, from Birmingham to Norwich, to Northumberland and down to Brighton before a final event on Thursday morning at the Royal London Hospital.

The team is being led by Roy Lilley who has worked in and around the NHs since 1974 and who is listed by Debrett’s as one of the 500 most influential people in England.

In Brighton the team (Roy Lilley, Dr Terri Porrett, Shane a Tickell, and Nick Maher) will meet with my colleague Paul Goddard (manager of our Phase One Project), local health expert, Geoffrey Bowden, and me to explore the situation locally, focusing particularly on the experience and needs of homeless people.

Paul said that street homeless people are 35 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the community. He said: “85% of rough sleepers have a mental health problem. They are 4 times more likely to die from unnatural causes and 84% of rough sleepers in Brighton and Hove have a physical health problem, the majority of whom will not be receiving the appropriate medical interventions.

“At Phase One, and at other BHT services such as First Base Day Centre, we ensure that our clients do receive the treatment they need from primary and secondary health services. Sometimes we bring the services to them, but ideally we help them to use mainstream services in an appropriate way at the appropriate time.”

Geoffrey Bowden, who recommended that the team visit BHT, said: “I’m so pleased that Brighton Housing Trust’s truly innovative work with the homeless is to be given a national platform during the Fab Change Day initiative. As a result I’m sure other agencies around the country will want to adopt BHT’s pioneering approaches to dealing with the multiple health issues faced by the homeless.”

I will post pictures later after the visit … if I am still awake!

Homelessness Reduction Bill – a move in the right direction?

I wrote recently about the Homelessness Reduction Bill urging our local Members of Parliament to support the Bill brought forward by the Conservative Bob Blackman.

The Bill, which will be debated by MP’s on Friday 28th October, aims to improve the support that homeless people receive from local councils.

The relatively new Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, has said that the government would fund any new duty …. and the Treasury has yet, as far as I am aware, to countermand his commitment. Here is what I have written about the Housing Minister.

I did say I have some concerns regarding some measures in the Bill, specifically ‘intentionality’, for example, someone being deemed as intentionally homeless for not engaging, which could be a problem with very chaotic or vulnerable clients.

Now the cross-party Communities and Local Government Committee has recommended a number of amendments to the Bill including to the clause on intentionality whereby people could become ineligible for housing assistance for failing to ‘cooperate’ with the council’s support.

The Chair of the Committee, Labour MP Clive Betts, said: “Despite measures elsewhere in the draft bill that foster a partnership approach, clause 8 reverts to the adversarial ‘take it or leave it’ approach. If the clause is to stay in the bill, we believe it should be redrafted to ensure that protections for vulnerable people in priority need are not weakened.”

I hope this simple amendment can be made to what is, overall, a very welcome step in the right direction.

You can still write to your MP to urge them to attend the debate. You can contact your MP by completing the short form on this link.

Has Theresa May signalled a sensible change in housing policy?

(This item first appeared in my column in the Brighton Argus on 8th October 2016)

theresa-may-2In her speech at the Conservative Party Conference on Wednesday, Theresa May signalled a shift in housing policy, away from her predecessor’s total focus on home ownership, such as Help to Buy and Right to Buy. She said: “We simply need to build more homes”.

She has promised “further significant measures” that will see one million new homes by 2020.

She rightly described the housing market as “the dysfunctional” saying the supply of new homes should be at the centre of housing policy.

Uncharacteristically for a Conservative leader, she advocated state intervention, saying: “This means using the power of government to step in and repair the dysfunctional housing market. It means using public sector land for more and faster housebuilding. It means encouraging new technologies that will help us to get more houses built faster and putting in more government investment too.”

This was all music to my ears. Of course I would have liked her to go further. I would have liked to hear about the need for social housing for rent.

Mrs May appears to recognise this, saying that high housing costs and the gap between renters and homeowners lay “at the heart of falling social mobility, falling savings and low productivity”.

Social mobility and greater equality depends on the availability of affordable rented accommodation.

However, if the one million new homes are focussed on those who can afford to buy, then the housing divide and social inequality will become greater.

But at this stage I am encouraged by what Mrs May had to say about housing.

As the autumn sets in, you can help those rough sleeping

Autumn is upon us, with winter creeping in, meaning that the lives of those rough sleeping in our community become even more uncomfortable and unhealthy. You can help improve their situations somewhat by supporting the First Base amazon wish list.

socksWe are particularly in need of boxer shorts and socks. They aren’t the most glamorous or obvious way to help the homeless community, but having a fresh change of underwear after a shower makes a huge difference to an individual’s wellbeing.

You could buy some socks, boxers or other items by following this link.

If you can help by sharing this on your Facebook, twitter, email etc. then it would be most appreciated. Here is some suggested text:

“BHT’s First Base Day Centre in Brighton provides support for those rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove. As well as access to on site healthcare and support to find housing and work, First Base also provide nutritious food and hot showers. You can support those sleeping rough by purchasing an item from the First Base wish list. It will mean that they will be one step closer to moving away from homelessness. Here is the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/wishlist/1LXVG93QIJ6XP

Thank you.

Is it time for BHT to get nasty with its fundraising?

olive-cooke-papers-20150810042745351In recent years there has been much controversy regarding the fundraising practices of some larger, national charities. The most high-profile controversy followed the tragic death of 92 year old Olive Cooke who had been bombarded with hundreds of requests for donations each month. As a result, and rightly so, fundraising practices are changing.

There has been a backlash against chuggers, those annoying, mainly young men and women who accost you in the street trying to get you to take out a standing order for one good cause or another. They are rarely transparent about the amount of commission taken from each donation by them and their employing organisation. The former MP for Brighton Pavilion, David Lepper, did some excellent work to try to have chuggers regulated.

Now we have an independent adjudicator, the Fundraising Regulator, which can form judgements over the practices of fundraisers.

Many charities are going out of their way not to offend anyone for fear of a complaint as well as not wanting to upset potential donors even when it means having to pull their punches when commenting on the causes of poverty.

I was having a discussion recently with one of my colleagues, Jo Berry, where we speculated about whether we “should turn nasty”. The idea was to actually name the group or groups who are adding to the housing crisis in Brighton, and demanding that they provide meaningful financial support for those organisations that are trying to deal with the fallout resulting from their successful enterprise when it exacerbates the local housing crisis.

One such group are the DFL’s, those who have moved Down from London, who have sold up in the capital, making a tidy profit, buying up housing in Brighton and, increasingly, squeezing people out of the town centre and from the city as a whole.

I know that in the street where I have lived for over 20 years, every new resident I have met in the last five years has moved down from London.

I can understand the attractions of Brighton and why people wish to move here, but there are consequences when these economic migrants displace locals.

I wonder how it would go down with our supporters if I began blaming the DFL’s for being part of the reason why we have so many people sleeping on the streets and for the hardship caused to local people from the increase in property prices? I’m sorely tempted to do so when I hear them complain about rough sleeping in Brighton and criticising the City Council and the charities for not doing more. (I do know that the housing crisis in Brighton and throughout the country is far more complex than this and I blog about this quite often, but displacing local people is part of the problem locally).

I wouldn’t want to offend those people who are doing well out of the property boom locally, the developers, those who build or buy to leave, the estate agents, the landlords, the consultants, the very people we make overtures to in the hope that they will support us. They are doing very well from the property market locally.

Perhaps we should have the equivalent of the Living Wage campaign, but this time aimed at estate agents and property developers, perhaps called the ‘1% for Housing’ initiative where they donate 1% of their profits to those charities that are looking to mitigate the impact of the buoyant housing market locally.

I would welcome any comments on this idea.

‘Managing Your Anxiety’ wellbeing group for women

BHT’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Service is to run a ‘Managing your Anxiety’ wellbeing group for women.

The 5 week group aims to provide a safe space to support women to:

  • understand anxiety
  • recognise early signs of anxiety
  • find ways to reduce and cope with anxiety
  • manage feelings and uncertainty

The group will be facilitated by Sue Boyer, a Wellbeing Practitioner (Counsellor) with many years experience and will take place on Tuesdays: 15, 22, 29 November and 6 &13 December from 11.00am – 1pm at BHT’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Service, Second Floor, 27 – 29 North Street, Brighton, BN1 1EB.If you are interested in taking part in this group, please contact us on 01273 929471 or email wellbeing@bht.org.uk