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.  

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.

Please support these amazing Marathon Runners raising money for First Base Day Centre

Brighton Housing Trust has a number of people running marathons for us over thee nxt month.  Please have a look at their JustGiving pages and PLEASE support them

Running the Brighton Marathon for First Base Day Centre on 9th April are Melanie Atkinson, Tony Felstead (from FUGU PR, which regularly supports First Base), and Benny Coxhill and Andrew Westhead (employees from ROCC Computers who, again, are regular supporter of First Base).  Please click here, here, here and here for their JustGiving pages.

Joshua Spearpoint is running the London Marathon on 23rd April for First Base Day Centre.  Please click here to support Joshua and Frist Base.

And finally, we have our Round the World Cycle Challenge on 25th June. There are three things you can do to help:

  • Sign up to ride yourself – you don’t have to do great distances, every little helps, as the advert says. It costs £10 to participate, £5 concessions and £5 for children under 16. Register via (Please make sure you do register)
  • Help on the day. Please email my colleague Sara Peskett, and she can let you know how and when you can help.
  • Sponsor me. You can do so here or you can send me a cheque made payable to ‘Brighton Housing Trust’ c/o BHT, 144 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4PH

According to Margaret Thatcher I am a failure ….

Margaret Thatcher once said: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus, can count himself as a failure”. I have to plead guilty as charged. I have never learned to drive, not through any inadequacy (although my long legs makes it awkward to get behind the wheel) but through an absence of need or inclination.

I can’t think that it has hindered me much in my life. I might have gone more into the countryside and it might have come in handy when on holiday, but I haven’t really noticed. Not driving has saved me a small fortune. Instead I walk and use buses, as well as the occasional taxi.

I freely confess I am now over the age of 26, so I think a lot of Margaret Thatcher when on a bus (like the time I caught the bus when I was about to have lunch with the Queen….). I am not alone. According to census data from 2011, over a third of households across the city don’t own a car – failures each and everyone of them!.

Cycling to work across Brighton and Hove has doubled between 2001 and 2011. Just under 5% of the population cycle to work. 14% of residents take the bus to work, and over 20% walk to work. Almost 10% of adults cycle at least once a week.  Even the Mayor of the City, Cllr Pete West, cycles to engagements.

In recent weeks I have become a bit obsessed about cycling. I used to cycle everywhere but stopped over 20 years ago when my daughter was an infant when I narrowly missed being killed by a bus turning from Ditchling Road into Oxford Street in Brighton.

My bike has been rusting in the back yard for too long. Yesterday I got it out, pumped up the tires and the thing practically collapsed under me. I need a bicycle because I have accepted a challenge from colleagues to ride 100km on Sunday 25th June as part of BHT’s Around the World Cycling Challenge.

In 12 hours we need as many of you as possible to ride round and round the Preston Park Velodrome so that we clock up 40,075km – equivalent to circumnavigating the earth at the Equator.

Why are we doing this? To raise £25,000 for First Base Day Centre. On days like today, with wind and cold, street homeless people need shelter, and First Base provides that and so much more – showers, clean and dry clothes, hot food, medical care, and much more. Staff at First Base also help people to look at why they are on the street and help them to move into accommodation.

There are three things you can do to help:

  • Sign up to ride yourself – you don’t have to do great distances, every little helps, as the advert says. It costs £10 to participate, £5 concessions and £5 for children under 16. Register via (Please make sure you do register)
  • Help on the day. Please email my colleague Sara Peskett, and she can let you know how and when you can help.
  • Sponsor me. You can do so here or you can send me a cheque made payable to ‘Brighton Housing Trust’ c/o BHT, 144 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4PH

The Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Cllr Pete West, launching the BHT Around the World Cycle Challenge

Charging charities for the work of the Charity Commission is not on

The Charity Commission is to consult about whether charities should pay towards the running cost of the Commission. In a recent poll, 78% of 225 respondent said no. The charge would be between £60 and £3000 and would pay towards the running costs of the Commission.

I wonder whether there is a fundamental flaw with this proposal. Charities are very restricted on how they can spend money. If money was donated for one purpose, it may not be spent on another. I am currently asking for sponsorship for a charity cycle ride and have said that the money raised would go towards the cost of running First Base Day Centre. We would not be allowed to use any of that money for any other purpose such as …. paying a fee towards the running costs of the Charity Commission.

If a charity spends money on an item for which the money was not raised, the Charity Commission would certainly have something to say about that.

We could, of course, start a JustGiving appeal to pay our fee to the Commission but I doubt that there would be an overwhelming response from the public to meet this dubious cost.

The Charity Commission is a Quango and, as such, the government should ensure that it is fit for purpose and adequately funded for that purpose. It should not be imposing a tax on charities whose funds were intended for truly charitable purposes.

The state of rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove

(This is the text of my column that first appeared in the Brighton Argus on Saturday 14th January 2017)

img_4847Twenty five years ago, those ending up on the streets were usually care leavers, ex-military, women escaping violence and abuse, people with mental health problems and/or addictions.

Today the picture is almost the same. Only the numbers are greater, and there is a new group: those becoming homeless because of the end of assured shorthold tenancies and the lack of alternative, affordable homes.

There is a perception that the numbers on the streets has grown significantly over the last three years. I don’t believe that to be the case.

The recent count of rough sleepers suggested a 100% increase in their numbers over twelve months. As Cllr. Clare Moonan, who is leading the work in the City Council to end rough sleeping in the city by the end of the decade, said recently, “At first glance, the numbers seems to show a large increase on last year’s estimate. The reality is that we now have a more accurate reflection of the situation in the city.”

She said that the most recent figure of 144 rough sleepers was based on a count compared to 78 people in 2015 which was based on an estimate, not one that we at BHT ever thought was a credible number.

Three years ago the shared information between homelessness organisations in Brighton had the number between 130 and 140. In 2016 the numbers fluctuated between 140 and 150.

Across the country, street homeless people have become more visible and ‘encampments’ have become common place in many prominent streets. This has resulted in increased levels of public concern.

In 2016, around 1,200 men and women presented as street homeless in Brighton and Hove. 45% were local people.

The single greatest cause leading to street homeless is the loss of rented home, either because the landlord has brought a six month tenancy to an end, or the break up of a relationship.

Many of us have personal resources, financial and social, to fall back on so that we don’t become homeless. We might have cash in the bank or credit on a card. We may have friends and family who will help us, putting us up for a while until we sort something out.

But when the goodwill of friends and family has been exhausted, and faced with no alternative, some sleep in cars, others in tents, some in a shop doorway.

Those not from Brighton tell us they come here for many reasons, a memory of a happy childhood holiday, the image of the city as seen on television, or its reputation for night life and, yes, drugs.

I can’t recall anyone ever saying they came to Brighton because we have great homelessness services, even though we do.

If we are seeing twenty or so people ending up on our streets each week, why have we not seen a huge increase in actual rough sleeper numbers? In Brighton and Hove we have excellent services and great co-operation between them, ensuring that as quickly as people end up on the streets, they and others are helped to move away from rough sleeping.

Last year, for example, Brighton Housing Trust’s First Base Day Centre was open for 288 days. We helped 306 individuals to end their rough sleeping.

Then there is the work of others, including the City Council which deserve much credit for their leadership, and many other organisations including the Clocktower Sanctuary, the two YMCAs, Project Anti Freeze, and St Mungo’s.

St Mungo’s was awarded a contract by the City Council in 2015 to deliver a 20% year on year reduction in the number of rough sleepers. As yet, in spite of many successes, the number has, unfortunately, remained stubbornly consistent.

At times like this, when temperatures are at freezing point, there is understandable greater concern about people who are still on the streets. Several churches open their doors during the winter, providing shelter for twenty five rough sleepers each night. During severe weather, BHT is funded to co-ordinate emergency shelters where people can escape the harshest elements.

Throughout the year, there is plenty of support. At First Base, for example, we provide somewhere dry and warm where rough sleepers can get breakfast and lunch, showers and laundry facilities, access to health services and, critically, the assistance to move permanently off the streets.

BHT provides a range of other services, all designed to prevent and end rough sleeping, including the Brighton Advice Centre in Queens Road, specialist mental health accommodation projects, a very successful addiction treatment service, a 52 bed hostel, and services to help people into training and work.

Homelessness can be prevented and it can be ended. But the high cost of housing in the City, and the shortage of new council and other affordable housing, makes that challenge particularly difficult.

LangeLee’s Café Supports BHT and First Base Day Centre

LangeLee’s Café in Brighton has recently added some Team Favourite meals to their menu and will donate 50p from the sale of each dish to BHT’s First Base Day Centre.

Co-owner, Michael Lange, explained why they have decided to support us: “We at LangeLee’s believe that as a business we have a responsibility to support the local community.


Me (left) with Michael Lange from LangeLee’s. (It’s not because we are both South Africans!)

“BHT offices are directly opposite LangeLee’s.   Andy Winter (BHT Chief Executive) and his team have been supporting us as customers since we opened, so when deciding on a charity to support there was only one choice.

“The work that BHT does to move people away from the streets is admirable.”

I am really grateful to Michael and Lee for hetir support.  I can recommend LangeLee’s, not just becaue they support us, but because of the fabulous food, not least my favourite dish, the Bobotie (apologies to all vegetarians for this, but LangeLee’s do a great range of vegetarian dishes)..