Why are there some people who apparently do not seek assistance when sleeping rough? This could be for a host of reasons including mental ill-health, because they are running away from something and do not wish to have to identify themselves, that they might have had bad experiences previously in homelessness services, that begging while rough sleeping can be a lucrative source of income, or because services did not offer what they want.
This last point is significant and I deliberately said “want” rather than “need”.
In Brighton and Hove there are plenty of services offered to people who are sleeping rough. Yet when I walk around the city I see people who are bedded down between 8 AM and 11 AM. That is the precise time that First Base Days Centre is open and providing, free of charge, the services that people need, firstly to survive on the streets and, secondly and as importantly, to get off the streets.
When I am asked for money, I suggest that the individual goes to First Base. I have had replies including: “I don’t have enough money to get in” when there is no charge at First Base to get the basics like a breakfast, shower and clean and dry clothes. Someone else said that First Base wouldn’t let them in because they have a dog. Again, not true. First Base does allow homeless people to bring their dogs in with them.
There is an issue if people are behaving in an unacceptable way because of alcohol or drug use, and this might get them excluded for a day or, very occasionally, longer.
There seems to me to be a group of people who have become entrenched in makeshift settlements around the city. Whether that is a so-called “life style choice” is a matter that I’m not too keen to debate. While there might not be enough hostel of other affordable housing options, there are services for people that means that nobody should have to beg. Some people might not want to address problems that took them onto the streets in the first place or keep them there now. Yet such services might be the very things that they need.
The ethical issue for the city is whether there should be a greater imperative for people to seek help.
I am often asked what people should do when they see someone on the streets asking for money. Begging and rough sleeping are very different issues, and often involve different groups of people. I would not encourage giving money but would recommend that the person is directed towards services like First Base. If they are homeless and destitute, they will use these services. If they are merely begging, they won’t.
And if someone moved by the plight of a homeless person wants to make a practical difference, they could support one of the very many very good charities working with homeless people in Brighton and Hove, not least First Base.
Northampton Borough Council, in a report to its cabinet, said: “Northampton now has an established community of people who are choosing to sleep rough as a lifestyle and all resolutely refusing to leave the streets”.
The use of language like “lifestyle choice” is bound to result in a number of people condemning what the council is trying to say. It is easy to use a choice of words to condemn what an authority is really trying to achieve.
The report does talk about the danger of rough sleeping and the detrimental impact it has on the health and well-being. And the report contains a new strategy to reduce the number of people sleeping rough in Northampton by 60% by November 2016 and to “as close as possible to zero” by this time next year.