The number of rough sleepers in Sussex is estimated by the Government to have increased by 40% between 2010 and 2012, from 103 to 147. Between 2009 and 2012 there has been a 37% increase in the number of homeless households accepted as being eligible for council housing in Sussex, from 1,035 to 1,422.

Delegates from each of Sussex’s 15 local authorities met with charity officials, housing associations, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, healthcare providers and more to discuss the situation yesterday.

After years of working in isolation, spiralling homelessness figures have forced providers to try to look at the problem from a different angle.

“Patterns are changing, ” continued Ms Keats. “For the second year running there was a 45% increase in UK nationals rough sleeping in London. “What is happening on the streets of London will be relevant to Sussex. “We need a single service offer. We have to all work together.”

Using a pot of Government money, the Sussex Homeless Outreach Reconnection and Engage- ment (SHORE) initiative was set up in 2011 to do just that.

After writing up a draft action plan and mapping out all of the services for the homeless, yesterday the project invited 100 delegates to talk about the solution. Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “Sussex has high rates of rough sleeping despite the fact that most people consider it a rural county.

“There is a large coastal strip with established migrant communities. Being rural means there are places for people to work. “It is easy to get to Sussex through the ports and Gatwick Airport. We are beginning to see an emerging group of central Eastern Europeans – Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria will add extra pressure to this.

“There are populations in Bognor, Adur, Eastbourne, Chichester, Worthing and Hastings. We are also beginning to see them in Crawley, Wealden and Crowborough.”



Ms Keats described central eastern Europeans who find themselves sleeping on the county’s streets as “destitute economic migrants”.

She said: “They are people who have come here to work and it’s all gone wrong and they are stuck. They weren’t homeless or rough sleeping in their home country. “They don’t want to go home because it’s an admission of failure or because they don’t have any money.

“In Sussex there have been nine murders of rough sleepers and people in the street community in nine years. They are vulnerable and some have been central eastern Europeans. “It’s about getting people home to their families, to a civilised European country where they get access to services and where they can be with their families.

“Evidence overwhelmingly shows if you target issues around street community it brings down crime but also protects people.”

Sergeant Rachel Glenton headed up Operation Accent in Littlehampton and Bognor a year ago to tackle the specific problems presented by having a community that is 18% eastern European. Within months 22 of the 25 rough sleepers in the two towns were found not to comply with EU treaties and were removed to their home countries. Sgt Glenton said: “Working with the UK Border Agency was a huge success.

“But there is a rise of between 7,000 and 9,000 seasonal workers in the summer and a turnover yearly, so our work is ongoing.” The operation’s work has also expanded to Chichester, where 60% of the agricultural employees work. The traditional image of homeless people queuing for soup kitchens might be the worst thing for people who find themselves on the streets.


Soup kitchens

Ian Chisnall, from Churches Together in Sussex, said: “Saying soup kitchens should close down is a really difficult message.

“The system is not going to provide anything for people constantly on the streets. Why would you stop providing food for people we know are vulnerable and needy?”

Ms Keats replied: “Feeding people on the streets sustains people on the streets. People get meals and never have to engage and address their issues.

“I don’t think feeding people on the streets is a good way of getting them off the streets. People need food and shelter.

“You should have soup kitchens in buildings where you can also supply support and mental health facilities.”

In Brighton and Hove in November, 43 people were recorded as rough sleepers in the annual homeless count.

Local authorities record people as having a local connection to the area if they have had a tenancy in Brighton and Hove for at least six out of the past 12 months, a tenancy in Brighton for at least three out of the past five years, have close family who have a tenancy and who have had a tenancy in Brighton and Hove for at least the past five years or have permanent employment in the city. But two-thirds of the rough sleepers found had no local connection to the city. To tackle the problem, parts of Sussex have already got a No Second Night Out programme in which people are picked off the streets before they become entrenched in rough sleeping behaviour.


Domestic violence

Ms Keats said 60% of the people living in UK hostels have a diagnosable personality disorder, compared to 4.4% in England.

She said: “It is only higher in prison and mental health units. “There is also a very strong link to domestic violence in childhood – these are people in need of specialist clinical services who are the least likely to be able to access it.

“They never resolve the problems because they’ve never been given the tools to deal with them.”

Last year 50 calls a day were made to Sussex Police about people who were homeless or rough sleeping.

The Government has calculated the cost to the state of each homeless person is on average between £24,000 and £30,000 a year. The Department of Communities and Local Government research found the homeless cost the Department of Work and Pensions in benefit payments, employment programmes, associated administration costs and payments to local authorities for administering housing benefit.

The Department of Health must pay for mental health problems, substance misuse and alcohol dependency, which are all more prevalent among the homeless population, especially among rough sleepers. Evidence from the Ministry of Justice suggests that homelessness and offending behaviours are interwoven and mutually perpetuating.

English local authorities’ expenditure on homelessness in 2010/11 totalled almost £345 million. Margaret Bannister, the portfolio holder for communities at Eastbourne Borough Council, which is the lead authority on the SHORE initiative, said: “Great strides have been made by all local authorities and partner agencies in Sussex to reduce rough sleeping on our streets, but more still needs to be done. “The SHORE conference will allow these people working tirelessly to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness to highlight their work, and to discuss new measures aimed at making sure more individual rough sleepers are found accommodation and support.”

Assistant Chief Constable Robin Merrett, from Sussex Police, said: “This community is extremely vulnerable and with the numbers of people sleeping on the streets starting to increase again it’s vital we act now to develop an early intervention approach so that people get access to the services they need, when they need them. “This is an opportunity to establish how we can work together to be more responsive.”