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Brighton and Hove in grip of poverty crisis
Rising numbers of rough sleepers will have no option but to bed down on Brighton’s streets as temperatures plunge this weekend.
Amid fears homelessness in the city is reaching crisis point, people will curl up in shop doorways and parks tonight awaiting a chilly low of 2C.
The closure of St Patrick’s shelter, Cambridge Road, Hove, in January due to financial difficulties has left seven city churches filling the void in the darkest winter months.
But until December, unless the temperature is forecast to drop below zero for three nights in a row and emergency procedures kick in, people without a home will struggle to find a warm bed.
Workers on the front line say every one of Brighton’s 48 agencies dealing with the homeless, from soup kitchens to hostels, are at capacity or have record numbers of users.
A new worker dedicated to helping people who have recently started sleeping on the streets dealt with 33 people in the last three months.
And volunteers have seen a dramatic shift in the people desperate for help, which now includes young professionals who have been made redundant and mothers struggling to feed their children during school holidays.
Day centre and outreach project Antifreeze run by Brighton homeless charity Off The Fence, is handing out up to 60% more sleeping bags a month than last year. The charity is also trying to raise £310,000 to buy its Portland Road base after it was put on the market.
Antifreeze manager Julian Haddow said: “Last year we handed out about 50 sleeping bags a month. Now we’re too often going over 60. In August it was just a smidgen over 80 which blows our budget.”
The Salvation Army homeless project, based in Park Crescent Terrace, Brighton, is spending its reserves to open every Wednesday and offer people breakfast and a hot lunch as well as a shower, clean clothes and a haircut.
Despite battling with finances, determined commanding officer Yvonne Rouffett, who runs the project, said: “We need to do it, we want to do it and we will keep doing it.”
Since St Patrick’s shelter closed in January, St Peter’s Church in York Place organised emergency shelter among seven churches until March.
They will start welcoming in up to 15 people every night for three months from December at a cost of £10,000, with food and other expenses shouldered by the individual churches.
Gap in services
But Antifreeze’s Mr Haddow said the loss of St Patrick’s still leaves a gap in services: “St Peter’s night shelter is brilliant help for the coldest months but it’s not all year round.
“The Government has a duty to provide emergency housing, cold weather provision, if the weather is forecast below zero for three nights in a row which kicks in at any time of the year.
“It’s a good provision and very necessary, but if it’s one degree it doesn’t open and that is still very cold.
“There’s no all year round shelter for when you find someone vulnerable who needs a helping hand for a month until they get their life sorted, that doesn’t exist anymore. There are just no immediate solutions for people.”
Official figures from Brighton and Hove City Council’s homeless count last year found 37 rough sleepers – but Mr Haddow said in reality the figure is nearly three times higher.
“Last year for the first time we had a multi-agency head count and 10 agencies found there were 107 individuals sleeping rough in Brighton and Hove,” he said.
“But the council using their strict criteria only counted 37 which makes a mockery of it - at some times of the year there’s more than that on the waiting list to be put in a hostel.
“We get between 40 and 50 in our centre every day so 37 is just ridiculously untrue, unrealistic and doesn’t represent the real problem.
“I really hope they are not going to turn a blind eye to a multi-agency head count again this year.”
Mr Haddow added that the council didn’t want to release the full figures.
He said: “It seems the council doesn’t want these high figures released and doesn’t want a multi-agency count to happen again because it looks bad if Brighton has more than 100 rough sleepers.”
A spokeswoman for the council, however, said that another “multiagency” count would take place in March 2013.
She said: “It has long been acknowledged that street counts are not an accurate measure of total rough sleeping across the city as the count is unable to cover the whole of the city in one night.
“However, it is useful as an indicator on the extent of rough sleeping and of whether the measures in place are effectively dealing with the issues or not.”
The council said it had been informed of the growing demand on homeless charities in the city.
She said: “The council is aware of reports by agencies that provide services to rough sleepers that there is an increase in demand from this group.
“This may be supplemented by people that have somewhere to live but are struggling with living costs and therefore are turning to services designed for people who are actually street homeless. “ Another council homeless count is due on November 23.
The manager of the city’s Rough Sleepers’ team, which is employed by the council, Sarah Mitchell disputed last year’s multi-agency count, claiming it actually totalled 76, but added: “There is no doubting that in the past year there has been an increase.”
A specialist No Second Night Out worker was employed six months ago by the team to quickly scoop up people whose lives have collapsed and have found themselves living on the streets.
Between July and September they helped 33 homeless people, trying to stop them becoming entrenched in street life.
Friends First homeless charity has seen an increase in the number of rough sleepers looking for a home-cooked meal at its drop in centre in New England Street, Brighton, from an average of 80 per week to up to 100 in the last month.
A volunteer at the Salvation Army’s weekly Homeless Project, Monsignor Jermone Lloyd from the Old Roman Catholic Church, said in recent months numbers have increased from 60 people a week to up to 100.
He said: “In the last six months the people coming here has gone from being more or less people living on the streets or squatters through to now where people who lost their jobs and are finding it difficult to make ends meet, and ended up homeless.
“We have had various stories.
“There was a chap whose job was working in a burger shop and had a flat upstairs. When the shop closed he lost his flat and his job in one go and was living in a tent in Preston Park.
“We have had young mothers as well, who bring their children in during half term or the school holidays – the children are fed at school but when it’s closed they struggle to feed them.”
'It's a huge problem and it's growing'
In 2010 to 2011 Brighton and Hove City Council’s housing team advised 4,358 people - 1,000 were helped to avoid homelessness.
The Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project is handing out more and more food parcels and sees an “awful lot” of single mothers struggling to feed their children and keep their homes.
In response a monthly homeless meeting was set up last year – it now runs every week to meet demand.
Employee Ellie Moulton blamed housing benefit changes, new squatting laws, parking restrictions in Brighton and the increasing cost of food: “It’s a huge problem and growing, it’s a real concern.”
Antifreeze’s Mr Haddow added: “There’s also a housing crisis, a real shortfall of where we can house people.”
A survey in August by FareShare Brighton and Hove, which redistributes surplus food to the homeless and vulnerable, found 55% of people have had an increase in the number of clients using their services. The other 45% have a fixed number of people they can help and are all at capacity.
Last year only 27% of agencies had an increase in demand for their services.
Nathan Au, project manager, said: “Homeless figures go up and down but the proportion of the population needing charitable support for food is going up. For a lot of organisations that are open access they are having trouble because demand is going up but funding is going down.”
A 35-year-old father of two, who did not want to be named, has been camping in Brighton for three weeks.
His family broke up leaving him homeless, he started using drugs and then fell out of work.
“I need to stay in Brighton and sort myself out for my children who are five and six. It’s hard in Brighton because there are so many homeless people. I intend to do cash in hand work. In the winter being homeless is hard.”
'It's a crime to be poor'
32-year-old Jamie Price has been homeless for 13 years.
“I’ve been homeless on and off - pretty much most of the time I have been squatting or sofa surfing.
“I’m getting to the point now where I’m seriously starting to lose the plot and I will end up in prison, a mental hospital or six foot under.
“Everyone is out for themselves and the way people treat each other...
“It’s really grating after putting up with it for this long.
“There’s no support whatsoever out there for us. We’re moved from pillar to post, forced to move out every so often, I have no worldly possessions.
“I’ve noticed loads more people in shop doorways recently. A lot of squatters have been displaced.
“One of my friends got set upon when he was sleeping in a doorway, people were kicking his head shouting ‘tramp’. “I’m literally at breaking point. Basically in this country now it’s a crime to be poor.”
Army's plea for funding
Brighton Salvation Army’s commanding officers Jacques and Yvonne Rouffett moved from Belgium in July.
Mr Rouffett said: “We are desperate for finances. We have to pay for food, electricity, gas and water.”
Mrs Rouffett said: “Feeding 70 people every Wednesday – that takes a lot.
“But we need to do it, we want to do it and we will keep doing it.
“The Salvation Army is never allowed to be in deficit but we are using our reserves.”
They are desperate for funding to upkeep the kitchen as well as donations of new underwear, warm socks, woolly clothes, waterproof coats and hats and gloves.
Facts and figures
Some 33 new street sleepers were helped between July and September by the Rough Sleepers Team, Brighton.
Up to a 60% increase in the number of people taking sleeping bags from Antifreeze, Brighton.
A 20% increase in the number of rough sleepers dropping in for a hot meal according to Friends First, New England Street, Brighton.
In Brighton and Hove, the average annual rent takes up 67% of the average income - having to spend more than 35% of your pay on rent is generally considered unaffordable, according to National Housing Federation.
In 2010 to 2011, 1,124 people applied to Brighton and Hove City Council as homeless and in need of help with accommodation.
There are currently 800 households living in temporary accommodation in the city.
How to get help How to get help Report a homeless person to the Rough Sleeper team on 0808 168 0414 The Antifreeze homeless centre is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday between noon and 4pm off of Portland Road.
The Salvation Army’s Homeless Project is open on Wednesday from 9am at the Congress Hall on Park Terrace Crescent.
Information about the Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project is available from www.bucfp.org.
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