I have never known a time like this, when people are so shocked by the number of men and women sleeping on the streets of Brighton and Hove. People comment on this to me, donations to First Base at Christmas were at an all-time high, the Argus regularly runs stories on homelessness, and individuals have gone out of their way to offer hope.
There is a general consensus that at this time of the year there are around 115 people sleeping rough. In the summer it rises, to around 150 last year.
These are large numbers, but not when compared to some of the major cities around the world. Information published by the excellent London homelessness charity, Thames Reach shows how bad it is elsewhere:
|Street homeless||Year of count||
Ratio of rough sleepers to general population
|London||742||2014||8,400,000||1 in 11,320|
|New York City||3,357||2014||8,406,000||1 in 2,500|
|Los Angeles||12,977||2011||3,858,000||1 in 297|
|Chicago||965||2014||2,715,000||1 in 2,813|
|Philadelphia||500||2012||1,548,000||1 in 3,095|
|Washington||679||2012||646,000||1 in 952|
|Boston||193||2012||636,500||1 in 3,298|
|Seattle||1,989||2013||634,500||1 in 319|
|Miami||535||2012||414,000||1 in 774|
|Vancouver||2,777||2014||2,400,000||1 in 864|
|Tokyo||1,697||2014||13,000,000||1 in 7,660|
|Paris *||5,000-7,000?||2013||2,250,000||1 in 375|
|Madrid *||2,041||2014||3,300,000||1 in 1,616|
|Dublin||168||2014||530,000||1 in 3,154|
*Paris and Madrid do not carry out regular street counts. Estimates are provided by organisations working with homeless people in each city.
By comparison, there is a relatively small street homeless population in Brighton and Hove, although each and everyone is a real person who experiences fear at night, whose view of the world is often the legs of people walking by, who get cold and wet and hungry, and who see people going home, locking their doors, turning the lights on, and closing their curtains. The closing of curtain, as one former rough sleeper said to me, was the clearest sign that he was out and they were in.
The challenge to politicians, as we approach the local elections, is: will you commit yourselves to ending rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove by 2020, or is your ambition merely to make rough sleeping as tolerable as possible for the rough sleepers?