Some Home Truths about the Housing Crisis in Brighton and Hove

Here are some headline figures regarding the housing crisis in Brighton and Hove as published in Home Truths (National Housing Federation, 2018):

  • The average home in the city costs around £394,512, which is 14 times the typical salary of £28,226.
  • Workers on an average salary in Brighton and Hove would need a 219% pay rise to afford a mortgage
  • Average monthly rents at £1,292 swallows up around 55 per cent of private renters’ income
  • 27 per cent of Housing Benefit recipients are in work
  • There are 601 long term empty homes in the city and there are 1,499 second homes.

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How BHT and our partners saved the lives of rough sleepers over the winter months

What wonderful weather we are enjoying at the moment.  Even my white legs have made an appearance.  The forecast is for another hot, sunny Bank Holiday weekend which means, inevitably, that it will rain!

It is hard to think back to the freezing cold of the winter months but here are a few statistics I would like to share with you regarding the Severe Weather Shelter which BHT operates when there is a risk to life from the weather.

The Severe Weather Shelter opened on 43 occasions over the winter, provided shelter for 244 different men and women who would otherwise be sleeping on the streets that night.  A total of 1,401 nights accommodation were provided.  33 members of staff volunteered to work on these nights, in addition to their normal day jobs.

BHT is able to run this shelter on behalf of Brighton and Hove City Council because we have First Base Day Centre that we can use for the shelter, and because BHT and several other partner organisations have the skilled, trained and dedicated staff who are willing to drop everything to run the shelter.  I am extremely grateful to all these colleagues for their selfless dedication.

So while we enjoy the wonderful weather, please spare a moment to think about how BHT is able to run First Base.  It takes fundraising activities throughout the year, our biggest being the Greater Brighton Cycle Challenge which is now less than six weeks away.

Please sign up to cycle or to help on the day.  You can find out more information here.

And if you want to support First Base and make me very happy, you can sponsor me as I am planning to cycle 100 km as part of the challenge.  Last year I raised just over £1,000, it would be wonderful to top that.  Many thanks.

Why I was underwhelmed by Bishop Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding: “a brief moment of moderate angst for the rich, the super rich and the mega rich”

Everyone (well not quite everyone) is talking about one aspect of the royal wedding. Not The Dress. Not the page boys or the bridesmaids. Not the car. They are talking about the sermon and Bishop Michael Curry.

Dr Michael Curry

It was quite a performance. His delivery was superb. He drew on the wisdom of Dr. King, a must for many American preachers. It was, they say, courageous to talk about poverty in a room full of fabulously wealthy and powerful individuals. One radio commentator said on the radio this morning that the only time Camilla smiled during the sermon was when Bishop Curry said he was going to drawn to a close and “let’s get y’all married”.

But it was the reference to poverty that troubles me. Don’t get me wrong. I am delighted he talked about poverty. But it was not a challenging reference to poverty. It was a safe, comforting one. 

Sky News journalist, Mark Austin, said:

“Lovely moment as the preacher takes the Royals to the edge of their comfort zone”

while the BBC’s Jeremy Vine said:

“The preacher is doing 50 in a 30 zone and it’s brilliant.”

Labour MP, David Lammy, tweeted:

“What power what courage what preaching with a global audience in witness. “When love is the way.. poverty will become History” The redemptive power of Love. Well done Bishop Curry. #RoyalWeddding (sic)”.

If only it was so. If only making poverty history was that easy. I have no doubt that 99.9% of those present at the wedding are people who have huge capacity to love and who are genuinely disturbed by poverty. 

Yet all the while levels of poverty increase in this country and in the United States, and all the while the rich get richer. 

Yes, I have no doubt that most of those at the wedding are active in various humanitarian causes and are, no doubt, very generous in parting with some of their personal fortunes. 

My issue is with Bishop Curry. “When love is the way … poverty will become history”. That is not the teaching of the Scriptures. It is not the teaching of Jesus. Yes, Jesus spoke, time and again, about love, but when it came to wealth anomalies he had a message which was a tad more uncompromising: “… it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. Ouch. 

Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount includes the passage: “Blessed are the poor, for they will inherit the Kingdom of God”.

Jesus drove the money lenders out of the Temple with a whip.

The Magnificat, also known as the Song of Mary (the mother of Jesus), is said or sung each Sunday in many churches. The text is taken directly from the Gospel of Luke, and includes the following:

“He has put down the mighty from their seat: and has exalted the humble and meek.

He has filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he has sent empty away.”

Please do not see this as an invitation to trade Biblical verses with me. It is easy to find quotes from the Scriptures to serve most causes. Verses from the Bible were used to justify apartheid, continue to be used for homophobic purposes, and for the subjugation of women. There are verses that would seemingly legitimise me selling my daughter into slavery and killing footballers who ply their trade on a Sunday.

My issue with Bishop Curry is that, while love is a central theme of the teachings of Jesus, the concept of ‘love’ should be an uncomfortable challenge to us all, not one that provides a brief moment of moderate angst for the rich, the super rich and the mega rich at a wedding where much of the cost came from the public purse.

Of course Bishop Curry was never going to deliver the sermon that Dr King might have delivered at another time and in another place. But, please, let’s not pretend that Bishop Curry did preach that sermon.

Should a charity chief executive only ever talk about the formal policy of her or his charity?

The Chair of the BHT Board, Joan Mortimer, recently asked my whether the views I had expressed in a particular blog post were BHT policy.  I said that I thought that it was very unlikely!  She asked me if that was a problem.  I don’t think it is.

The views I often express on this blog, in television and radio interviews, and in newspapers may or may not enjoy the support of some or all of BHT’s Board members (the twelve people who make BHT’s policy).  On most issues it shouldn’t matter.

An organisation like BHT doesn’t nor, in my opinion, should it have a policy on issues such as the legalisation of drugs.  These are difficult matters and there is no monopoly on wisdom. Each of us has a view and should be encouraged to share it. That way we might edge forward to a greater truth.

Of course I would never speak out against BHT or its agreed policy.

I appreciate that I am in a privileged position, me being the chief executive of BHT, with its reputation and the resources it lends me to speak out as I do.  I am very mindful that with this position comes great responsibility.  Therefore I am careful not to offend, no matter how much people might disagree with what I say.

In BHT there is room for dissent. Last year, to the horror of my colleague, Jo Rogers, I wrote about my strong reservations about the Housing First model which politicians and practitioners seem to be overly keen to endorse.  The reason why Jo was horrified is that she is involved in a Housing First initiative.

I encouraged her to write a response pointing out where she thought I was wrong and to try to persuade me of the errors of my ways.  After some hesitation she wrote a great piece and we were both really encouraged by the response he item received, specifically the fact that we were able to debate openly this important issue.  It was seen as an organisational strength, certainly not a weakness. 

Jo didn’t convince me, nor me her, but she helped improve my understanding of Housing First.

Much depends on how we debate.  Jo was, characteristically, respectful.  Far too often people are  abusive and insulting when views are expressed that do not conform to their personal fundamentalism.  Brighton and Hove prides itself on how tolerant it is.  There is a joke that the only thing that is not tolerated in Brighton is wheat!

But for a tolerant city, there is a lot of intolerance around for views that question or are not part of the new orthodoxy.

Finally, before anyone refers to me having called someone on Facebook earlier today a “pinko wishy washy liberal”, I wasn’t being abusive.  It was an attempt at humour, and the person on the receiving end was Andrew Higgo who is probably my oldest friend (since we were both 9 years old). 

Probably more unforgivable (from his perspective) is me publishing the attached photo of him (on the right) and me (on the left) in pantomime!  

Why I disagree with the call by the former chief constable, Paul Whitehouse, for the legalisation of drugs

The former Chief Constable of Sussex, Paul Whitehouse, has called for the legalisation of drugs including heroin, cocaine and cannabis.  I fundamentally disagree with him on two counts:

First is the practical case. The illegality of drugs make them less accessible and therefore, for many, less attractive to non-addicts. We have seen cigarette use amongst young people reduce as a direct consequence of tightening up on supply.

Would people be allowed to acquire unlimited quantities of what would become legal drugs?  We have a big enough problem with the most popular legal drug of all, alcohol.  Do we really want to make other drugs as easily accessible?

An unlimited supply is a most appalling prospect for the addict, their families and, in particular, their children. The nature of addiction is that the addict has no limits. They would use more drugs in greater combinations, and drug related deaths would spiral.

Methadone is legal and yet we see those on methadone ‘treatment’ topping up with heroin and other street drugs, or the methadone enters the illegal market when sold on to other addicts.

But if supply was limited, addicts would again seek out criminal supply.  There is ample evidence from trials where heroin is prescribed that those on these trials continued to ‘top up’ with illegal street drugs with the associated violence, exploitation and crime.

The second case against legalisation of drugs is the moral one. Drugs including heroin and cocaine prevent addicts achieving their emotional, spiritual and economic potential, and drugs harm people’s physical and mental health.  I am not prepared to see countless thousands of people live a life controlled by their addiction.  I want so much more for them than those advocating legalisation who seem to have given up hope, are devoid of ideas, and are willing to abandon people to addiction in perpetuity, or at least until they die from an overdose.

At what age would those advocating legalisation allow people to obtain those drugs that are currently illegal? Eighteen? Sixteen? Twelve?  Surely not even the most libertarian amongst us would be so morally bankrupt to support legalising heroin, cocaine and cannabis for children as young as twelve.  But twelve year olds are using these drugs.  Legalising drugs for those eighteen and above would immediately refocus the illegal market exclusively on children.

There is a moral alternative.  I invite those advocating legalisation to make an uncompromising statement that heroin, cocaine and cannabis use is harmful, and that abstinence-based rehabilitation must be the overriding objective for all addicts.

People in the hell of active addiction have said this to our staff:

“I can’t carry on in life. I have no options for the future”

“I’ve lost everything I valued. I’m trapped. I want my son back in my life”

“My mum died and she never saw me sober”.

The illegality of drugs for addicts is a mere inconvenience.  The devastation caused by addiction is what blights their lives and those who they love and who love them. And it is not uncommon that addicts involved in the criminal justice system get into abstinence-based treatment.

Jen (not her real name) who has achieved abstinence through BHT’s Addiction Services said:

“Before entering the service I was completely out of control.  I was manic, confused, full of rage, argumentative and very defensive.  I was in the deepest, darkest place I’ve ever been in and couldn’t see a way out”.

 

After treatment she said:

“My life is better today, and me and my children’s future is looking brighter”.

Addicts like Jen are not calling for legalisation. They are calling for more treatment that leads to abstinence and recovery.

I can’t imagine any of those advocating legalisation would want their sons or daughters to spend any part of their lives addicted to heroin, cocaine or cannabis.  And that’s not because these drugs are illegal.  Recovery from addiction is possible.  We just have to make that the priority.                           .

Have you got what it takes to be the manager of the Brighton Choir With No Name?

The Choir with No Name (CWNN) runs choirs for people affected by homelessness in London, Birmingham and Liverpool. Their mission is to support people to make friends, build their confidence and skills, improve well-being and find their place in society.

Now the CWNN is coming to Brighton and Hove.

if you haven’t come across the CWNN yet, have a look at this short video of the recent launch of the Brighton CWNN on the British Airways i360.

Brighton Housing Trust is excited to be working in partnership with CWNN and we are recruiting a Choir Manager.

The Brighton CWNN Choir Manager role will take on the administrative and support side of the Brighton choir.  The job will be to recruit choir members, help them make friends, build their confidence, ensure they’re having as great a time a possible, and signpost them to relevant services as needed.

The Choir manager will recruit, coordinate and motivate volunteers who support the choir. There is event management involved in the role for regular gigs and outreach workshops. The Choir manager will work closely alongside CWNN’s Choir Director and liaise with other CWNN staff while receiving direct line-management support from Brighton Housing Trust.

This post requires that the post holder shared our commitment to the vision, mission and values of CWNN and Brighton Housing Trust, has a love of music and is experienced in working with disadvantaged people, volunteer management and event organising.

For full details and to apply please go to our website or email us.

This is an 11 hour per week contract and the post holder will be based in Brighton. The successful candidate will be appointed initially on a one year fixed term contract. The salary is £25,569 per annum pro rata (11 hours based on a 37 hour week).

Closing Date: 12 noon, Tuesday 22nd May 2018

Interview Date: Wednesday 30th May 2018

Worthing to Brighton Wellbeing Walk 26th May 2018

The BHT HR Team: Ben Cox, Tess Hill and Gemma Baldwin

In order to promote health, fitness and personal wellbeing the Human Resources Team at BHT will be doing a Wellbeing Fundraising Walk. The walk will be from Worthing Pier to Brighton Pier on Saturday 26th May 2018. They say that the route takes “roughly” 3 hours and 33 minutes. Shame they can’t be more specific!

They are fundraising for First Base Day Centre which offers a range of services to support people who are sleeping rough or insecurely housed 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.

If you are unsure whether to sponsor my colleagues, remember the following:

The average life expectancy of a homeless man is 47, for a homeless woman just 43. Homeless people are

  • 35 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population
  • 4 times more likely to die from an unnatural cause
  • 13 times more likely to be the victim of crime
  • 77% of rough sleepers in London reported one or more support needs (i.e. alcohol, drugs and/or mental health).
  • Just under 50% were assessed as having mental health support needs
  • 51% report experiences of the armed forces, care or prison

Please do support them by sponsoring the walkers at their JustGiving page.

If you would like to take part in the Wellbeing Fundraising Walk, please email my colleague Tess Hill.