Real Life Stories: How First Base Day Centre helped Joe off the streets

Many of the people we are seeing are new to rough sleeping, like Joe who was helped by First Base Day Centre.  This is his story:

“When Joe first came into our service, he had never before been in the position of rough sleeping.  He was 45 years of age, had worked fairly consistently and always had friends or partners he could rely on if work dried up and he found himself in between jobs.  The recession had meant that he had faced a longer period of not working, his relationship had succumbed to stress and he found himself sleeping on the beach.

“Joe had made a claim for Job Seekers Allowance, but had not received a payment after several weeks.  He had eaten nothing for two days and was embarrassed, he said that he had not washed or changed his clothes for a week.  We made sure that Joe had a hot meal, a change of clothes and was able to use the shower at First Base.

“Joe was assigned a caseworker who met with Joe every day for the following week and it became clear that he was feeling overwhelmed by his difficulties, ashamed and hopeless about his future.   He said that he had visited a railway bridge on several nights in the previous month and had considered throwing himself under a passing train.  Joe disclosed the difficulties that he experienced throughout his life and that these experiences were re-visiting him on a nightly basis and tormenting him.

“Joe’s caseworker referred him to the Mental Health Team, a multi-agency team providing mental healthservices for homeless people, contacted his GP and made Joe an emergency appointment.  The Doctor was sympathetic and offered medication and follow-up visits.

“It was obvious that Joe was in no position to be actively seeking work and he needed a new claim for a sickness related benefit.   Joe was very anxious and physically shaking while he spoke with the Department for Work and Pensions on the phone so his caseworker supported him with the call.  It was a further two weeks and many phone calls later that Joe received any benefit payment.

“Joe met with the Mental Health Team at First Base and they agreed to offer some on-going support, seeing Joe fortnightly, alongside regular contact with his GP and daily support from his caseworker.

“With the support of his caseworker, Joe arranged an appointment with a BHT housing adviser who suggested that he make a homeless application.  His application was rejected due to lack of medical information supporting his case.  As Joe did not have a local connection to Brighton and Hove it was not possible for him to be referred into one of the City’s hostels, so we began to explore the possibility of privately rented housing with support from another BHT project, Firm Foundations.

“Throughout this time, Joe was continuing to sleep on the beach and his mental and emotional state would fluctuate greatly on a daily basis.  Joe made very good use of services at First Base, including volunteering and on good days was able to plan the direction of casework himself.

“Over time, we collected letters from his GP and from mental health specialists involved in his care and re-submitted his homeless application.   With the additional evidence gathered Brighton and Hove City Council accepted Joe’s application for housing.

“Joe is now living in BHT supported accommodation for people experiencing mental health difficulties.  He has key work support from this project alongside specialist mental health support for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He is engaging with alcohol support services and still calls in periodically to let us know how things are for him.”

First Base operates in the centre of Brighton and is the main centre for the provision of support to assist people who are homeless or vulnerably housed in Brighton and Hove to move on from the streets or insecure accommodation and realise their aspirations.  First Base operates client-centred specialist services to support people who are sleeping rough in the city to get off the streets, start realising their aspirations through work, learning and leisure and find a place they can call home. Several services run from First Base including a Healthy Lifestyles Project (comprising the Catering Training Project and Fitness 4 All), PASH (Promotional and Awareness of Sexual Health), First Impressions (CV and Employment Service), Culture (Heritage and Cultural Activities), and Dine, our catering Social Enterprise company.  

BHT is recruiting for a Director of Finance and Resources

One of the most important colleagues for any chief executive is that of the Director of Finance. For me it has to be someone who I can rely on and who has great judgement.  As with any charity, we have our challenges, and the Director of Finance must have a calm head on their shoulders.  Fortunately, crises in BHT are few and far between, but there are challenges regarding the furture direction of BHT to 2022 and beyond.

At BHT the post is called the Director of Finance and Resources and is one of four in the executive management team, working as a close team with Nikki Homewood (our Director of Advice and Support Services), David Chaffey (Director of Housing and Property Services) and me.

The role is currently filled on an interim basis by Les Warren and we are looking to recruit a Director who will take a lead on financial strategy, risk management, operational and financial performance. The Director is responsible for optimising the organisations financial position, value for money and providing constructive challenge and advice to income generation and sustainable growth strategies. They oversee and direct the effective implementation of the Trust’s IT strategy, act as company secretary and be responsible for much of the organisations central resources.

I am looking for someone with vision and an ability to deliver services of excellence, and I will give them support and space to influence the future of the organisation.

This is an exciting post. If you have the passion, are self-motivated, collaborative and a team player, and if you are as ambitious as we are, we want to hear from you. Further information is available here. You must hurry.  The closing date for applications is next Monday (24th April).

Please support the Fabulous Four running the Brighton Marathon for BHT

There are four amazing people running the Brighton Marathon for First Base Day Centre this Sunday:  Melanie Atkinson, Tony Felstead, Benny Coxhill and Andrew Westhead Please click here, here, here and here for their JustGiving pages.

Our thanks to Creative Benefits who are sponsoring our running vests.

Housing in Hastings: Difficulty in accessing the private rented sector

(This is the second in five posts regarding housing in Hastings based on a briefing paper prepared by my colleague Sue Hennell. Yesterday I wrote about Universal credit and how the six week wait for the first payment was causing problems for people trying to get accommodation in the private rented sector)

There are a number of reasons why there is more difficulty in accessing private rented accommodation in Hastings at this time.

The Local Housing Allowance Levels have not kept pace with rent increases:  The average monthly rent for a single room in a shared house in Hastings is £360 per calendar month and the Local Housing Allowance is £279, the shortfall per month is £81. For a tenant who is in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance at the rate of £57.90 (under 25s) or £73.10 (over 25s) per week this would mean using £18.69 per week to just cover their rent.  For a one bed room flat, the average rent is £426 per calendar month and the Local Housing Allowance is £368.20, the shortfall being £57.80 per month.  It is the same for families:

Number of bedrooms

Local Housing Allowance Average rent price in Hastings* Median rent price in Hastings*

2 bed

£521.26 £738.00 £693.00
3 bed £693.12 £890.00


4 bed £847.69 £1,009.00


*taken from Hastings Market Rent Summary (

Reluctance to house people on benefits: Private sector landlords have always been reluctant to take tenants in receipt of Local Housing Allowance but it would appear they are even more reluctant with housing costs payments under Universal Credit. BHT’s Housing Access Project undertook a ‘secret shopping’ exercise with 25 local letting agents in Hastings in August 2016 and 75% said that they would not take on tenants in receipt of the Local Housing Allowance (this was before the full roll out of Universal Credit)  and the rest responded that they might possibly do so.

Rent in advance: Those private sector landlords that will take tenants in receipt of the above benefits require rent in advance, 6 weeks rent in advance, deposits, guarantors and fees. Whilst it is possible to get the rent in advance and deposit for one month via different routes (e.g. Hastings Borough Council) the 6 weeks rent in advance and access to guarantors is more difficult for people who are poor and/or claiming benefits.

Rental increases following welcomed improvements: Hastings introduced selective licensing for certain areas in order to address poor standards of housing. Whilst this is really good news some private sector landlord cannot afford to upgrade their properties so have pulled out of the market and where properties have been renovated rents have increased.

The question I asked yesterday was where will people live if social housing is not keeping up with need and private landlords are less willing to rent to claimants? I add a further point today: where will people live if they simply cannot afford the high cost of rents?

We are a nation in the midst of the worst housing crisis in living memory, if not ever. And it will only get worse.

If you are facing eviction due to rent arrears, get advice early from one of BHT’s Advice Centres in Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton, the CAB or another advice centre.

Here are details of the BHT Advice Centres:




Housing in Hastings: Universal credit and the 6 week wait for the first payment

(This is the first of five daily items I will be posting this week. My thanks to my colleague Sue Hennell who wrote a briefing paper on which I have drawn for these posts).

Hastings is one of the areas that is now in the ‘full service’ roll out of Universal Credit. BHT’s Hastings Advice Centre has found it is dealing with tenants in rent arrears due to the waiting time for payments to commence.  This can mean that the tenant accrues rent arrears and it can increase existing arrears.  For some clients they have had to wait longer than 6 weeks for their first payment.

While social landlords on the whole are willing to wait for their rent and will arrange a repayment plan for any rent arrears due, many private landlords are not so willing to wait and will serve notice.

This is not just a problem in Hastings, but one that is replicated across the country. The Guardian in January of this year reported:

  • Eight out of 10 social housing tenants moved on to Universal Credit are falling into rent arrears or increasing the level of pre-existing arrears.
  • Families unable to manage the regulation 42-day wait for a first payment are regularly referred to food banks by housing associations or local MPs.
  • Some claimants are waiting as long as 60 days for an initial payment because of processing delays on top of the formal wait.
  • Uncertainty about the system has contributed to a dramatic decline in the number of private landlords willing to take on benefit recipients, even if they are in work.

Private landlords said that without changes they would be reluctant to let to Universal Credit recipients because of the high risk of tenant arrears. Alan Ward, the chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, said: “Landlords are rapidly losing confidence in the system.”

Meanwhile, membership surveys by the National Landlords Association reveal that the number of private landlords willing to let properties to recipients of Universal Credit – or the local housing allowance that predates it – has fallen sharply from 46% in 2010 to 18%.

A question I ask from time to time, where are people going to live if social housing isn’t keeping pace with need (and it is certainly not), and private landlords are less willing to rent to claimants?

If you are facing eviction due to rent arrears, get advice early from one of BHT’s Advice Centres in Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton, the CAB or another advice centre.

Here are details of the BHT Advice Centres:




The smallest charities are finding the going hardest and fear for their future

18% of charity chief executives believe that their organisation is struggling to survive, according to a survey carried out by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (of which I am a member).

What is particularly worrying is that charities with a turnover of less than £1 million were disproportionately represented in those who are taking a pessimistic view. Those of us leading larger organisations are fortunate to have more options available to us, and the loss of one or two key income streams will not compromise the financial viability of the organisation as a whole, even though individual services might close.

It is these small organisations that are probably the closest to their communities but may also be ones that are least equipped to respond to a worsening economic environment.

Three small organisations have sought sanctuary by joining BHT over recent years – Threshold Women’s Counselling, the Hastings Community Housing Association (HCHA), and the Whitehawk Inn. There are some efficiencies to be gained by such mergers, but they are often overestimated. The real advantage can come through shared central expertise and improved cash flow.

Merging with a larger organisation can ensure the continuation of services and doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of identity. Threshold is still called Threshold, HCHA is now Hastings Community Housing, and the Whitehawk Inn remains the same.

There is a loss of autonomy with the governance and management arrangements of the ‘receiving’ organisation tending to take over, and the business disciplines will be applied across the expanded organisation.

An understandable mistake that trustees of small, struggling charities are known to make is to hope a corner will be turned or something cropping up. That very rarely happens. They might leave an approach to a larger, relatively stronger, organisation too late. It is tough to be at the helm of an organisation that is struggling. I know, I have been there. But an early approach can result in charitable services being saved and continued. After all, that is why we are here.

South Africa, Cape Town, apartheid, Brighton, laughter, family and friends – I don’t know what to call this post!

I’ve just returned from a couple of weeks visiting family in South Africa. It is always such a pleasure to spend time with my older brother, Simon, and his family.  There is always much laughter – my brother has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Monty Python, as well as of history, Shakespeare, and poetry.

The trip coincided with the 40th anniversary reunion of my school. It was again an occasion with a lot of laughter, although I have to admit that I didn’t recognise or remember a number of my former class mates.  Surely I wasn’t at school with these old men.

Simon and I had an idyllic trip up the west coast.  We felt the sand under our feet, and the sunrises and sunsets were out of this world.  We relaxed, walked and laughed a lot.

With my brother I visited District Six, or what remains of it, a haunting and sad experience, with little remaining of a community full of laughter and kwela music which, through its vibrancy and inclusivity, was an anathema to the apartheid regime.

My teenage years were wonderful, spent on beautiful beaches, playing sport, hanging out with friends. After all, I had the best of everything: I was white, male, privileged.  But, as Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  South Africa exploded in 1976, when I was sixteen, with the Soweto Uprising during which 1,000 school children were killed by the apartheid police and military.

There remains such division, inequality, and injustice. The main difference is the colour of those in power.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that the first ANC government had stopped the gravy train only long enough to get on board.  The biggest difference between Mandela’s government and that of Jacob Zuma is that competence and optimism has been replaced by corruption and incompetence.  And it shows.  Poverty remains so obvious.

Yet South Africa remains a country offering a warm welcome, and there is a lot of laughter, in spite of everything.

Returning to a grey, wet Brighton, everything seems depressed. I don’t know what the opposite of rose-tinted spectacle are, but at BHT we see on a daily basis the effect of poverty and homelessness, addiction and mental ill-health, and the intended/unintended consequences of the cruel welfare benefit system which causes unnecessary hardship.

We were recently described as a “Ken Loach Theme Park”, a description I like. But our spectacles are bifocals because we see change happening on a daily basis – people moving off the streets, people in recovery from addiction, those coming to terms and living independently in spite of mental health problems, and people being housed and getting work.

And there is a lot of laughter. But I have in the back of my mind a comment of a client from way back when I was the manager of our Addiction Services.  In a review meeting with clients, one said it would be great if they could have more fun.  “Whatever fun is”, another client responded.

For those of us who are privileged, who have homes, who can afford holidays, even trips to South Africa, we must, I must, never forget that for many, in South Africa and here at home in Brighton, life is hard. We must do what we can to make life better for them.