This morning (30th October 2017) I was on BBC Sussex talking about the plight of rough sleepers in Brighton and Hove. This item came, co-incidentally, hard on the heels of the tragic death of a 30 year old on the Brighton seafront over the weekend.
He wasn’t the first homeless person to die and he certainly won’t be the last. Last week at the BHT Staff Conference we remembered the passing of all too many men and women. Such is the tragedy of rough sleeping.
How many more deaths will be needed before the country as a whole is shamed into saying no to rough sleeping?
While rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove is obvious for all to see, it is not on the scale of London or in many cities in the United States where the numbers are in the tens of thousands in individual cities. In Brighton there are up to 150 people sleeping rough each night.
Every week I hear of a new initiative being launched or a new group being established to solve this challenge. Much time and energy is spent, but little appears to change.
In reality, a lot is happening. We provide, for example, through First Base Day Centre, the basics for survival and basic dignity – hot drinks and meals, showers, toilet facilities, clean and dry clothes and critically, with our partner organisations, we help several hundred people off the streets and into housing.
We don’t need new initiatives, or new groups, or ways to make life a bit more bearable for those on the streets. We need to help them off the streets. Some worthy and well-motivated initiatives can hinder that process.
There are some uncomfortable truths that need to be said, for example, the role of alcohol and drugs in keeping people on the streets and leading, tragically, to some deaths.
We don’t need politicians calling for places where people can inject. We need politicians calling, unambiguously, for treatment services that will help people, not least homeless people, come off and stay off drugs. The housed and the middle classes can find recovery in their own homes. Homeless people need abstinence-based residential rehabilitation services.
Members of the public are increasingly concerned about people sleeping on our streets. They want to do something, practical and immediate. The best thing that they can do is support those services that help rough sleepers to survive and help them to move off the streets.
(Update 07/11/17: The original version of this item referred to a 21 year old who had been found dead on the Brighton seafront. I based that on local media reports. I have been advised that he was 30 years old and, although he may well have been sleeping out that night, I believe he was actually accommodated in one of the local supported hostels at the time. Neither of these facts detract from the fact that a young man has died on our streets. I am sorry if my error caused any undue distress to those who knew and loved him).