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.  

Record Street Collection for Brighton Housing Trust

BHT has had its most successful street collection ever.  The most raised in previous years was just short of £2,000 but this year the collection held on Saturday 17th December, raised £4,525.68.

A team of 60 collectors at eleven sites around the City were supported by fourteen choirs and groups of carol singers.


Shelley Reed

My PA, Shelley Reed, who was one of the organisers of the collection, said: “We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the public. Few will not be moved when they see people bedded down in shop doorways. At Christmas this is particularly so. They want to do something, but a lot of people have doubts about giving money direct to the homeless person themselves.

“Through the BHT Christmas street collection, those donating help to ensure that First Base Day Centre can provide hot food, showers, and clean and dry clothes, not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

“We are delighted about the amount raised and I would like to thank our collectors, the choirs and, most importantly, everyone who made donation.

“We would have liked to have top £5,000, so if there is anyone out there who wishes to donate the remaining £474.32, they can send a cheque payable to ‘Brighton Housing Trust’, to 144 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4PH.”

Can I thank Shelley, Jo Berry and Alison Boyce who organised the collection, and also add my thanks to those of Shelley to everyone who helped on the day and to all those who donated.

Follow this link for photographs from the day.

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.

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.

We must never return to the days of ‘Cathy Come Home’

(This item first appeared in the Brighton Argus on 4th October 2016)

cathy-come-homeThe iconic film about homelessness in Britain, ‘Cathy Come Home’ tells the desperate tale of Cathy, who loses her home, husband and eventually her children through the inflexibility of the British 1960’s welfare system.

We have moved a long way since Cathy, but still there is further to go.

This week we have heard that there are almost 2,000 children living in emergency and temporary accommodation in Brighton and Hove. This is a higher rate than in many other parts of the country.

BHT’s day centre, First Base, works with the visible homeless – those sleeping on the streets. Those in emergency and temporary are the hidden homeless. Our Advice Centre works with people who are invisible, who you wouldn’t notice but who, like Cathy, are facing homelessness and major disruption to their lives and those of their children.

Fortunately the Advice Centre prevents several hundred households from becoming homeless each year. Each case of homelessness we prevent saves the local authority on average £16,000.

Our Court Duty Scheme, a service not available to Cathy, had a 93% success rate over the last year in preventing homelessness.

Advice services prevent homelessness, and without them the invisible people we work with would soon become the visible homeless living on our streets.

A special screening of ‘Cathy Come Home’ will take place at 6.30pm on Monday 10th October at the Duke of Yorks in Brighton. We must never return to the days of ‘Cathy’.

First Base Day Centre is celebrating its 250th anniversary. Actually it is the building’s, not First Base’s, 250th!

Today (Wednesday 7th September) eighty friends of Brighton Housing Trust will gather at St Stephen’s Hall, home to First Base Day Centre, to celebrate the building’s rich 250-year heritage.

ballroom_W300Originally built as an Assembly Room in the Old Steine, the building attracted many visitors and became the focal point of the town’s entertainment during the late 1700’s. In 1822 it was connected to The Royal Pavilion via a covered passageway and converted into a private chapel, used by King George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria.


The Pavilion estate was sold in 1850; in order to save the chapel from demolition it was moved brick-by-brick to Montpelier Place where it opened as a church and later became a centre for deaf people. In 1984 BHT launched First Base Day Centre for men and women experiencing street homelessness in the town.

We’re delighted to mark this fantastic occasion with so many people and organisations that have supported the work of First Base Day Centre. The building is now a place of change, where men and women with a history of sleeping rough are supported to make the changes needed to move away from rough sleeping, into education, training, work and, ultimately, secure accommodation.

Guests will hear from the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Cllr. Pete West, who volunteered at First Base in the 1980’s, Operational Manager, Simon Hughes, and Sara Peskett who has run a client-focused Heritage Project for the last three years at First Base.

fbgalleryrenpost_W600hlf_logo_W220BHT received funding from the Homes & Communities Agency in 2008, in partnership with Brighton & Hove City Council, & the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2010 to extensively and sympathetically restore St Stephen’s Hall for future use. Conservation of original architectural features and installation of contemporary facilities has created a welcoming, empowering and aspirational environment for clients of the service.

My colleague, Simon Hughes, got it absolutely right when he recently said: “We hope that St Stephen’s Hall continues to evolve. It is our belief that nobody should be rough sleeping, and by working together with other agencies in the city we hope that in the future day centres for people who are street homeless will no longer be needed.”

First Base Day Centre relies on donations to provide vital services for people who are rough sleeping, and every contribution makes a difference. To support the work of First Base Day Centre please visit our website.

Rough Sleeping in Brighton and Hove: Support from Katy Bourne, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner

Katy Bourne, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, with Chief Superintendent Nev Kemp (right) and me, at the launch of the Brighton and Hove Rough Sleeping Strategy

Katy Bourne, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, with Chief Superintendent Nev Kemp (right) and me, at the launch of the Brighton and Hove Rough Sleeping Strategy

Tuesday (19th July 2016) saw the launch of the Brighton and Hove Rough Sleeping Strategy.  You can read the strategy here. The aim of the strategy is to ensure that nobody has to sleep rough on the streets of Brighton and Hove by 2020. 

At the launch was the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne.  In her weekly email, she spoke about the launch and the work she is doing to help tackle homelessness.  I have taken the liberty of reproducing it in full:

“It is a shocking statistic – the average age that rough sleepers die is just 47 years old. That is why this week I was proud to pledge my support for Brighton & Hove’s Rough Sleeping Strategy 2016.

“This strategy was launched at Brighton Housing Trust’s (BHT) First Base Day Centre. At the signing event I met a client of BHT called John who has used the day centre for the past four months.  He told me that whilst he had managed to get off alcohol, he faced a real dilemma in that he wasn’t eligible for housing in the city because he did not have a local connection. This in turn meant that he would not be able to get a job. 

“John, who regularly enjoys a shower and a meal at the day centre, told me his biggest fear was that he would get in with the wrong circle of people and end up back drinking alcohol. 

“We know that homelessness along with drugs and alcohol are key factors in crime and that’s why I directly fund initiatives in all these areas. Nightstop is one such innovative project where people open up their homes for young people to help tackle homelessness. Watch more here.

“I also fund initiatives to tackle drugs and alcohol such as the Cascade Creative Recovery Project that is run by, and for, people with experience of active recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

“The Brighton & Hove Rough Sleeper Strategy 2016 makes clear that the best way to help people sleeping rough is by donating to registered local charities, rather than individuals. This ensures the funds are directly used to help people off the streets. Other ways to provide support include volunteering locally and using the Streetlink service to help outreach workers locate those in need.

“Homelessness will continue to be an issue across Sussex but it is good to know that our organisations are working hard to address the problems and help those sleeping rough on the streets.”

You can sign up to receive Katy Bourne’s weekly email here.