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brighton and hove's anti-homeless policy

Let's all sit back and relax as Brighton and Hove Council give themselves a well earned pat on the back for significantly reducing the numbers of homeless people on the streets over the last ten years. According to the Homeless Strategy 2008-2013, the number of people sleeping rough in Brighton fell by 82% between 2001 and 2007, i.e. from 66 to 12 people. Maybe that's why they think it's safe to close the only overnight sleeper shelter in the whole city - St Patrick's.

Of course this is actually statistical manipulation of the North Korean variety. The reason the figure is low is that you need to be 'verified' by the Rough Sleepers Street Services team (RSSST) who alone have the power to turn a homeless person into an actual rough sleeper. In order to be eligible for help from the council, you have to be told that you actually exist by this team. So if you are vulnerably housed, sofa surfing etc. and there is a real danger of you ending up without roof over your head, you approach this lot and your fears will become a reality straight away. They will ask you to sleep out at a specific location, where they can then come and check you. Then and only then are you eligible for their particular brand of support.

Ironically enough as well as creating rough sleepers, this “assertive outreach team” has a part to play in the council sponsored disappearing act. As part of the CRI (Crime Reduction Initiative) Charity the team encourages rough sleepers to take advantage of the generous relocation policy, which pushes the poor back where they came from. Lucky them getting to reconnect with their roots. It's likely that they may have had good reasons for leaving in the first place, but as the disappeared, barely clinging on to their right to be alive and be seen, they don't get the luxury of choice. All this in the City which proudly proclaims itself 'The Place to Be'.

The RSSST are also commissioned by our local authority to carry out street counts of people sleeping out. These figures are routinely so low that you mighty be forgiven for thinking that in a triumph for equal opportunities they'd been carried out by the visually impaired. In fact they are carried out in in accordance with official guidelines, using criteria so rigid that the vast majority of those simply bedding out for the night are excluded from the official numbers or as has happened in the past conveniently granted emergency accommodation on the night of the count.

These dubious methods don't really square with the council's stated intent to reduce and prevent homelessness. Those with a boredom threshold high enough to handle their various publications on homelessness, find themselves puzzling over such pearls of gnomic wisdom as “with this strategy we would like to provide clear and transparent pathways to independent living” and similar equivocations about psychological interventions to prevent repeat homelessness (Homeless Strategy Executive Summary pg 15, for those who want some light reading).

It doesn't seem to occur to anybody that perhaps the psychological interventions are slightly misplaced and may be better aimed at the policy makers, whose heads are so far up the social stratum that they fail to see that all the psychological, inspirational and motivational support and other such deceptive jargon cannot do the impossible and magic up the four walls and roof that make a house.

Evidently it is a lot easier to send someone on a metaphorical pathway than actually try and fill some of the thousands of empty properties in the area. Trudging through these articles one is left wondering whether any of the people devising such useful policies have ever themselves tried to tread a “transparent path to independence”.

Slightly misleading also is the much lauded aspiration of “independent living”, which actually means “sustaining a tenancy in the Private Rented Sector”. Surely those who have managed to survive life on our streets, or seek out alternative ways of living are far more self reliant than people paying astronomical rents off the back of coming from privileged financial backgrounds?

Of course it's not only in Brighton and Hove that this statistical and physical disappearing act is happening. Council websites nationwide are urging people to “report” rough sleepers on specially provided phone-lines while service providers such as the London charity Broadway are singing off the same sheet as the state and justifying relocation polices “as for the good of the community”. As we speak authorities in the London boroughs are falling over themselves in a bid to “cleanse” the areas of the most entrenched and visible rough sleeping community in their drive to showcase their idea of London in time for the Olympic Games. This means that in the coming months, Brighton is likely to have more rough sleepers than ever, a fact that has been noted by people in the know, such as the CEO of Brighton Housing Trust.

To help cope with this influx and with impeccable timing as ever, in one last surge to finalise the disappearing act, Brighton and Hove Council has sat back and allowed the closure of St. Patrick's night shelter, the only remaining walk-in night shelter in not only Brighton, but all of East Sussex. Since being taken over by Riverside ECHG in 2010, the fate of this formerly charity-run facility - which has saved countless lives over the years - lays in the hands of England's fourth largest Housing Association and our local authority. The joint decision to close the night-shelter was undoubtedly a political one as St. Patrick's had always operated outside of local authority official policy and helped those who according to our council don't actually exist.

As of the 31st of January there will not be the option of arriving at St. Patrick’s' and getting support and advice there and then. If you're down on your luck in Brighton now, it seems you have to allow yourself into the grasp of the council, get chewed up for a bit, volunteer all your information for their records and then be told that they have no statutory obligation to house you. This is part of a nationwide trend, as housing associations vie for tenders and try and streamline their services and increase organisational growth and in doing so deprive those without homes of their rights to make any choices about their fate. Welcome to the Big Society!


There are 9 comments on this story...
Added By: LIZ WAKEFIELD - 29th January 2012 @ 11:58 PM
Hi folks
I am doing everything I can to help homeless people in Brighton.
Added By: Mike Weatherley - 30th January 2012 @ 12:08 AM
Me too.
Added By: Anonymous - 3rd February 2012 @ 11:38 AM
What a ridiculous concoction of lies, half-truths and manipulation of facts, in true 'north Korean style'. How easy it is to sit on the side-lines and criticise, hard much harder to actually do anything to address homelessness in Brighton. RSSSRT house and otherwise assist vulnerable and homeless people in Brighton and Hove very day of the week, while the only solution the author of this little gem can come up with is to somehow utilise the alleged 'thousands' of empty local properties, without, of course, suggesting any practical way this could come about, and to rant about the closing of St. Patricks night-shelter, hardly an ideal environment for vulnerable people, more, for years, the private fiefdom of the unethical and immoral Father Allen.
Added By: the author - 6th February 2012 @ 1:27 PM
Hi Anonymous,

The point of the article wasn't about what the author does to address homelessess in Brighton, it was a fair criticism of the money driven and heartless polices around homelessness put into practice here in Brighton. If in fact you do work for the RSSSST, you will be well used to manipulation of facts and policy, such as that of local connection, which was never intended to be used as it in Brighton, to refuse people access to services. You will also be well aware that it is in your financial interests to reduce numbers fo rough sleepers for official records. If that isn't unethical, I struggle to find what is.
Added By: Anonymous - 8th February 2012 @ 12:12 PM
A few points...

Firstly: "RSSSRT house and otherwise assist vulnerable and homeless people in Brighton and Hove very [sic] day of the week"
Perhaps a semantic, even pedantic point, but it is my understanding that the rough sleepers team do not house anyone - they are the arbiters of entitlement and can make (often seemingly inconsistent) decisions about whether or not somebody is eligible for housing or '"assistance" (for assistance read: travel voucher to where they came from - or in fact anywhere that isn't Brighton and Hove).

Secondly: "St. Patricks night-shelter... for years, the private fiefdom of the unethical and immoral Father Allen [sic]".
OK, get over it - Father Alan Sharpe hasn't been involved with St Pats for nearly four years, yet despite this his name is invoked whenever anyone wants to make a point about how terrible the place is. I won't begin to defend the few actions which led to his resignation, but would challenge any of his detractors to find absolutely no merit in his 20+ years providing shelter for those who NO ONE ELSE WOULD HELP.

Yes, perhaps St. Pats isn't "an ideal environment for vulnerable people", bur nor is homelessness an ideal situation for them - so do we outlaw homelessness again? Reopen workhouses?. Does anonymous of RSSSRT seriously expect anyone to believe that sleeping rough on Brighton and Hove's streets is a more ideal environment?

I don't for a second imagine anyone working for RSSSRT is a mean minded, heartless person with a vested interest in further marginalising homeless people or deliberately worsening anyone's situation. However I agree with the author that many of the policies employed by them and BHCC are highly unethical, and rather than knee jerk defensive reactions and irrelevant hyperbole, maybe their staff and defenders could take a some criticism on the chin and use it to inform their future practices - though I won't be holding my breath.
Added By: Nils Bymouth - 21st February 2012 @ 10:53 PM
The criminalization of squatting rather than utilizing the empty properties around Brighton will not be of any assistance to the few people who are able to be assertive enough to avail themselves of this option. There are obvious and practical ways this can be achieved but there is no will to do so especially after a manipulative media has sought to portray squatters in a stereotyped manner. Anonymous and Mike Weatherley both know this as does Steve Bassam.
Added By: stick - 23rd February 2012 @ 7:25 PM
what can we do right NOW??
Added By: Anonymous - 22nd May 2012 @ 9:14 PM
Although I agree with the general tone of this article I don't feel it is right to blame RSSSRT for this mess. They operate within a remit and if they do not fulfill this they do not get funded. RSSSRT offer an invaluable service to the homeless community but unfortunately are largely restricted to other agencies like (alas) the council. RSSSRT have no power to house people and have no power to (directly) combat the obscene lack of housing in Brighton for vulnerable people I believe that a lot of the time the best they can offer (apart from doing what they can to make people safe and provide a sleeping bag) is to inform people that in reality no, if you have no local connection, you are not likely to be housed and MAYBE the best option is to move elsewhere...and that place is not just wherever you come from. Also - RSSSRT do not make the rules for the ludicrous 'street count' but they have to abide by those rules.
Added By: Mike - 8th November 2012 @ 10:01 AM
I stumbled across this article when searching for something else so cannot comment on the specifics of any of it. It is, however, heart warming to find people on both sides of this argument who clearly care passionately about the plight of homeless people. I will however offer comment based on my own experiences having worked for local authorities, housing associations and, for many years now, a homelessness charity. The issue now sees many effective, local based agencies who add significant value to the community and the cause, being driven to the wall by being pushed into a market driven environment. Here we find the predatorial nature of the private sector and some large national charities delivering sub-standard services at the behest of statutory commissioners purely because the former want to profit from the misery of others by promising the earth and delivering very little. In the meantime, commissioners sit and number crunch in order to 'ensure' they get 'value for money' without having the knowledge, experience or skills to know what is going on. (Many of them have never even seen a homeless person, let alone worked or managed in the social care sector.)

Having worked in housing and homelessness for several decades, I confidently predict that within ten years we will have returned to the 1960's and 70's. The profit makers will have squeezed out their percentages; real street homelessness will have reached unacceptable levels; and philanthropic members of the communities will be opening volunteer run nighshelters (deja vu anyone!) because the state has failed. Meanwhile the cost to the public purse will have rocketed in terms of demands on; primary and in patient healthcare; community mental health services; the criminal justice system due to 'anti-social behaviour' (stealing bread because your hungry, how terrible) and addiction (turning to drink because you're left at the bottom of the pile with no hope). The bureaucarts and politicians are blind to all this but the only thing for sure is that current thinking is probably one of the least cost effective ways of dealing with a challenge that no civilised society should have in the 21st century.

We can fund wars without flinching while the life expectancy of someone on the streets of the UK is just 47. It's a disgrace.
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