(This item first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent on Friday 23rd March 2018)
The worst of the winter weather is over, I hope. Rough sleeping is dangerous at any time of the year, but more so in severe weather.
The average life expectancy for a homeless man is 47 years, for a homeless woman it is just 43. Homeless people are 35 times more likely to take their own lives than the rest of the population, and 4 times more likely to die from unnatural causes.
In this day and age, in one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries in the world, it is wrong that anyone is living on the streets. It is unforgivable that anyone should die there.
Yet people have and do die, but these deaths are, fortunately, not common. But one death is one death too many. There would have been many more tragedies if it was not for the efforts of many individuals and many organisations.
For the first time in many years, the City Council operated a winter shelter for 30 rough sleepers. Sussex Homeless Support converted a bus that can accommodate 16 individuals. The churches continue to provide a rolling night shelter for fifteen others.
In severe weather, Brighton Housing Trust’s First Base Day Centre co-ordinates the severe weather shelter. This winter, to Friday 16th March, this shelter had been open for 35 days, accommodating 203 different people. We have been open for most nights over this last week as well.
Those with dogs are welcome, as are their pets.
All this is in addition to the year-round provision by several homelessness organisation, including Brighton YMCA and YMCA Downslink Group which specialises in work with younger people, as does Sussex Nightstop that provides a safety net for young people age 16 to 25 providing emergency accommodation in the homes of volunteers.
My own organisation, Brighton Housing Trust, provides:
- year round hostel accommodation for 52 rough sleepers
- residential addiction treatment and safe, alcohol and drug free accommodation for 62 former rough sleepers
- accommodation for 18 ex-rough sleepers who have jobs
- self contained accommodation for up to 100 former rough sleepers, including 36 in our shipping container homes project.
That’s accommodation for over 200 rough sleepers every night of the year.
BHT and other homelessness charities are there, making a huge difference throughout the year. Can you imagine how much worse the rough sleeping crisis would be without us?
Locally, in partnership with the City Council, we can try to do more, but it will take action by central government to see an end to rough sleeping.
At the time of the November budget, the government announced the creation of a task force with the aim of halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027. That, simply, is not good enough.
A civilised country is judged on how it looks after its most vulnerable. By that standard, the UK is not doing very well at all.