Hostels for the homeless are creating a nightmare world where it is impossible for people to rebuild their lives, it is claimed. Ben Parsons reports
Hundreds of drug addicts, alcoholics and released prisoners are living in temporary accommodation alongside people evicted through poverty or leaving rehab services in Brighton and Hove.
Councillors have been repeatedly warned they need to offer drink-free, drug-free spaces if people are to be able to break the spiral of addiction and homelessness.
Today we publish an interview with a man who says he became an alcoholic because of conditions in one large temporary accommodation block in central Brighton.
A council “joint strategic needs assessment” paper in September last year said the city has the second-highest proportion of people trying to come off drugs who have dropped out of treatment more than once.
And last month councillors were told a “lack of suitable accommodation locally for clients with complex and multiple needs which are too high for hostel or temporary accommodation, has resulted in very vulnerable clients becoming more vulnerable and excluded from services”.
The council is now pledging to create more truly drink-free and drug-free spaces so people who are trying to improve their lives do not get sucked back into addiction by addict neighbours.
Emergency hostels are designed for people sleeping rough or who are made homeless.
There are 288 rooms in the city for those people – and there was a waiting list of 53 in August last year.
There are another 66 units in the city for young people.
And many more live in other forms of supported accommodation.
But conditions in the hostel system can be overwhelming – and drug and alcohol abuse is rife.
Last year a released young offender housed in a Marine Parade block was so desperate to get away that he crashed his girlfriend’s car into a wall because he knew he would be sent back to prison.
His solicitor told Brighton Magistrates’ Court: “The only accommodation that could be found for him was in a hostel with drug users, street drinkers and people who are much older than him.”
Last month the council’s housing committee was told: “Clients in hostel accommodation with support needs, such as learning disabilities, are sometimes open to exploitation and abuse in a hostel environment.”
The same report contained evidence from a 49-year-old man who became homeless and was housed in temporary accommodation in Percival Terrace, Marine Parade.
He said: “I found the best way to survive there was to keep myself to myself and to avoid getting involved with the other residents as I believed that it would be only too easy to go downhill if I were for example to start hanging around with the drinking or drug-using crowd.”
In June last year, an inquest into the suicide of a 40-year-old man living at William Collier House in North Road heard that though drugs were banned, respect for tenants’ privacy meant their rooms would not be searched.
The manager told the inquest: “We are not a prison. We are not going into people’s rooms, even if we suspect drug use.”
But experts say that as well as simply having a roof over their heads, substance-free areas are vital if addicts are to successfully come through rehab.
Andy Winter, the chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust, said: “What we need to do is, where people are vulnerable and are wishing to achieve an abstinent lifestyle, we have to redouble our efforts to ensure they are given the maximum opportunity to live somewhere where they are not surrounded by other people using, where their aspirations to achieve abstinence are respected and enhanced to the maximum potential.”
He said the services should raise their expectations of the people they deal with.
He told The Argus: “It is no good saying we have to make allowances for them because they have chaotic lifestyles.
“If they are due to come in for an interview and they arrive an hour late, we won’t see them. If they were coming to meet me as a dealer, they would be there five minutes early.”
Social activist Ian Chisnall, who works with various branches of the YMCA, said: “There has definitely been a noticeable increase of people on the streets.
“Sofa-surfing and that sort of thing has increased dramatically and will as benefits changes come in.”
Brighton and Hove City Council officers reported in July last year that they were expecting “an increase in individuals who are homeless due to economic circumstances and do not fit into the traditional hostel pathway which tends to cater to the needs of individuals with complex issues such as substance misuse”.
Councillors have been warned by officers more people who are evicted from their homes because of benefits cuts or poverty will be entering the hostel system in the coming months.
The council has recognised a need for drink-free, drug-free homes for recovering addicts but says housing is the first priority.
Liz Wakefield, the chairwoman of the council’s housing committee, said the local authority was investing to “build capacity” for homeless services and respond to higher numbers of homeless people.
She added an extra £1million is planned for the council’s budget for homelessness for the coming year.
She said in a statement: “We are currently working with partners to pilot ‘substance-free’ accommodation to help those trying to maintain abstinence; however, we are dealing with a particularly vulnerable section of the community, many of whom will have a variety of needs.
Back on track
"Poor mental health, substance misuse and homelessness are not mutually exclusive.
“The primary need is homelessness, and our main focus is to help our clients get back on track and live independently.”
The council added it runs a peer mentor scheme which places ex-rough sleepers within services to support clients who are struggling to maintain their hostel accommodation or to move off the streets.
Aishah Siam, 22, has been living in a hostel in Percival Terrace, Marine Parade, since October.
She was placed in emergency accommodation after reporting she was being harassed at her council flat.
Now 35 weeks pregnant, she is desperate to get a stable home.
“I heard one of the night guards got beaten up the other day. I do not feel it is even safe for me to raise my child in this hostel. I am finding it increasingly harder to eat and sleep as I am so stressed and this just gets worse as day by day the arrival of my little girl is getting closer and closer.
This is severely damaging my health and as a result is probably having major effects on my unborn child.”
Brighton and Hove City Council said: “Our tenant is in our top priority category as she bids for a new home. A member of our housing staff has been in touch with her to talk through her housing options and assess if there is any further support we can offer her at this stressful time.”
Kris Mole, 29, gave up work to care for his sick relatives.
After they died, he found himself without a roof over his head – and ended up in the same Percival Terrace hostel.
“My window was next to one of the toilet windows. I could hear a guy in there on the phone, saying: “I need an eighth of this, a gram of that.
“If I was someone trying to get off drugs it would have been a very difficult place to be.
“It was horrible. At three o’clock in the morning people would be playing drum and bass full volume next door. You could hear people shouting down the phone.”
Kris was interviewed by Brighton Housing Trust and placed in Olympus House in Marine Parade, and has since moved to a flat in Peacehaven.
'I'm a big guy, but I was intimidated'
“Justin” lived in temporary accommodation in Grand Parade, Brighton, for two months last year. He was sent there by the city council after he was evicted by his landlady.
He told The Argus: “There are more victims of mental health disorders, alcoholics, drug addicts, than I’ve ever seen, dumped in one place. “There are multi-addicted people there.
“There are children there, there are single mothers there.
“There are ex-prostitutes there.
“I’m a big guy, but I was intimidated.
“People would knock on the window saying: ‘I know such and such a person, let me in, I want to buy drugs’.
“I used to lie on the bed, thinking: ‘This is a nightmare’. I could hear kids running around, alcoholics and druggies running around.
“I had to get drunk every night. That habit has continued. I learned to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.
“Alcohol was the worst thing. Almost everyone drank.
“I wasn’t the only one who started drinking in there.
“The housing situation exacerbated the problem. These people have got nothing, they are going nowhere.
“You’d have to have tenacity, intelligence and strength, or good advocacy.
“None of them had advocates, or care workers who did anything. None of them understood the benefits system. It would take someone of very strong character to come out of there unscathed and to lead a normal or successful life.
“No-one in there really succeeds back in society. I’m sure it happens, but I can’t see how.
“They shouldn’t be all lumped together. It is a dumping ground.”
The council said the accommodation where Justin stayed was inspected by a council team last week and found to be “up to standard”.
See the latest news headlines from The Argus:
- City is beacon of economic dynamism
- Man given another fine for being racially abusive
- New bins but don’t forget the collection
- Gruesome surgery saved author's career
- United in grief following death of dedicated fundraiser