What I want to see in the parties’ manifestos

The political parties are yet to publish their manifestos for the June general election. I have three simple requests to all parties for policies to be included in those manifestos:

  1. Make a commitment to building council houses, in massive numbers, as an investment for current and future generations. Abolish the Right to Buy so that these homes remain in public ownership in order that they continue, in perpetuity, to meet housing need, and not investment opportunities.
  2. Make an unequivocal commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of the 2017-2022 parliament. In a country as wealthy as the United Kingdom, it is an outrage that people are living on the streets, and their presence should shame those in a position to end rough sleeping.
  3. Put an end to benefit cuts. More than half of all voters think that benefit cuts have gone too far, according to an Ipsos Mori poll published on Thursday. Denying 18 to 21 year olds the right to claim benefit support to help towards their rents will drive young people into homelessness, into crime, and into sex work. What politician wants that as part of their legacy?

Housing in Hastings: Rough Sleeping

(This is the fourth of five posts on housing in Hastings based on a briefing paper prepared by my colleague, Sue Hennell)

The numbers of street homeless people in Hastings have increased. There has been a 700% increase in rough sleeping in Hastings since 2010. The Seaview Outreach Project identified 115 people as sleeping rough in Hastings and St Leonards between April and September 2016. 54% of the 115 had a local connection to the Hastings and St Leonards area. 33% did not have a local connection and 13% did not want to disclose this information.

There is a lot of work going on in Hastings to address this situation and there was a multi-agency event on the 15th of March where the agencies came together to look at ways forward, this included Hastings Borough Council, Seaview, Fulfilling Lives, HomeWorks, Sussex Police, NHS Hastings & Rother CCG, Making Every Adult Matter and others.

IT is my viewthat resolving the issue of rough sleeping cannot be achieved at only a local level and that national housing policy has to change. Yes, the government makes funding available for specific initiatives, but other policies hold back the aspiration that nobody should be rough sleeping by 2020. We need changes to housing policy, the funding of homes with truly affordable rents, and the benefit system should assist, not frustrate such moves. As it stands, the combination of policies, including the real threat to specialist supported housing (which in any case is in short supply in East Sussex, and there are no hostels for homeless people in Hastings) will just make matters worse and we will see, inevitably, an increase in rough sleeping in Hastings.

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

Here are contact details for the BHT Advice Centres:

Brighton

Eastbourne

Hastings

 

A place in Brighton and Hove that is certain to alarm and distress you

There is an area in Brighton best avoided, both day and night. If you don’t you will witness things that will alarm and distress you. I am, of course, referring to the comments that follow articles in the Brighton Argus.

All species of pond life can be found there, and it seems that the more extreme and abusive the comment the more it attracts attention.

I am a big fan of the Argus, but I think that it lets itself down by not moderating more proactively the comments left at the end of articles.

However, some of the more intelligent comments are printed daily on page 11 of the paper. Today (Monday 27th March) there are some interesting comments regarding homelessness.

One comment suggests that the more we do to help homeless people, the more will be attracted to the city. I disagree with this. I have never heard somebody say that they moved to Brighton because it has excellent homelessness services or drug services, etc. They might say they came to Brighton because of the drug scene, the ambience of the city, or that Brighton is a much nicer place than Slough or Hull!

There is a comment that sasylum that Brighton is “a kind and liberal place” and that it appears that we are “rolling out the red mat for beggars”. Another commentator says that you should not give money to beggars. He (I believe he is male) encouraged people to give to charities that help people to get off of the street. I agree with this comment.

A further comment suggests that more tents will appear on the city streets and in parks in the forthcoming weeks. In previous summers we have seen an influx of people to the city although that was not the case last summer when the numbers remained very level with no seasonal spike.

Strong messages are given out by homelessness charities that Brighton is full up and there are not the services or accommodation for people should they arrive in Brighton with nowhere to live.

But if there is to be an increase in rough sleeping, and I suspect that over the next few years there will be notwithstanding the excellent efforts of the City Council and homelessness charities, because of changes to welfare benefit and the most recent decision to deny those between 18 and 21 the automatic right to claim housing benefit.

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 https://www.bht.org.uk/support-us/around-the-world-cycle-challenge-2017/ (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 https://www.bht.org.uk/support-us/around-the-world-cycle-challenge-2017/ (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

How does society allow people to sleep rough in freezing conditions?

Today I received an email from a colleague who lives and works in Hastings. I would like to share it with you:

“This morning my phone (how does my phone know these things) told me that it was minus 5 degrees as I stepped out for my walk to work. It was dark as I set out.

“During my walk I witnessed two sights that will stay with me today.

“One created by the Earth, the stunning sunrise over a beautiful calm sea (my photo doesn’t do it justice).

hastings-sunrise

“The second sight, created by Humans (I was going to say Human Kind, but there is no “Kind” in this). Rough sleepers bedded down. Remember my phone was saying it was minus 5.

rough-sleepers-hastings

“This second sight makes my heart sink. How do we as a society allow people to have to sleep rough in this weather. I do not know if SWEP is currently activated in Hastings. It was for the Thursday night we had snow, but I see these rough sleepers every morning including the Friday after the snow. It was de-activated on the next day (the Friday).

“Does the Government or DCLG check that local authorities are actually activating SWEP (the protocol that requires emergency shelters to open in severe weather conditions)? Probably not as they don’t make sure local authorities are applying homelessness legislation under Part VII of the Housing Act.”

(For information, Part VII of the Housing Act includes an interim duty on housing authorities to ensure that accommodation is available for an applicant (and his or her household) pending a decision as to what duty, if any, is owed to them under the Housing Act. Rough sleeping is not appropriate accommodation. It is costly for local authorities and it can be difficult to source such accommodation, but the legal duty remains. BHT’s Advice Centres in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings are there to prevent homelessness, enforce tenants rights, and ensure that local authorities honour their legal duties).

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.