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Our heroes on the streets - veterans among rising homeless in Brighton and Hove
New figures suggest the number of rough sleepers on the streets of Brighton and Hove has risen again.
Brighton and Hove City Council's annual rough sleeper count, which took place on Thursday night, revealed the number of homeless people in the city had increased by 16% since 2012.
This year's count found 50 people - seven women and 43 men - braving cold temperatures on the city's streets, doorways, benches and parks. Last year there were 43 in total.
The hike has come of no surprise to homeless charities, volunteers and rough sleepers themselves - as one charity boss described Brighton and Hove as a “homeless hotspot”.
Experts blame the increase on financial difficulties fuelled by the struggling economy, while last month one councillor revealed private sector rents in Brighton and Hove had soared by 27% in the last year alone.
Tub Collins, manager of The Clock Tower Sanctuary - a homeless charity for youngsters aged 16 to 25, said there was a “cultural perception” Brighton and Hove was “somewhere people can runaway to”.
He said: “The rise was expected because we have seen a substantial increase in the number of homeless people we help.
“Why is it going up year on year? That's the 64 million dollar question. It's a combination of economic recession and a housing crisis for starters.
“From our own experience here at The Clock Tower Sanctuary, we are helping twice as many people today as we were in 2010.
“It's difficult to manage as we're run entirely by around 40 volunteers and we're looking to recruit more people to help with the demand.
“Brighton is a hotspot for homelessness. If you look back at the figures over the last ten years, Brighton is always the second highest per capita outside London.
“It's a cultural perception that Brighton and Hove is somewhere people can run away to.”
Earlier this year council chiefs rejected claims from Tracey Allum, director at homeless-aid website eatnow.co.uk, that Brighton and Hove was a “soft touch” for rough sleepers.
She said the city's reputation for being “diverse and intelligent with a kind-hearted, bohemian attitude” meant being homeless was “more accepted” in Brighton and Hove.
The council responded by revealing it dealt with more than 3,500 cases of people with housing difficulties last year, managing to prevent homelessness in 1,000 of those cases and accepted a duty to house in 507.
But with an abundance of homeless charities and organisations already established in Brighton and Hove, including the likes of First Base, Anti-Freeze, CRI, The Clock Tower Sanctuary and Emmaus, does the “soft touch” label have substance?
Tony Waring, 47, has been a rough sleeper for six years. Originally from Hastings, the former RAF chef said the death of his brother and a failed marriage caused him to turn to drink.
He said: “Now here I am in a doorway. It's known that being homeless here in Brighton is better than anywhere else.
“We have a night church in Hastings but they kick you out at three in the morning.
“Here there are about 15 churches which have just started letting you in from the evening until the morning. There are the soup kitchens too.
“It's far better here. People can be very generous and caring. It's harder to get accommodation because I haven't got a local connection but there's help everywhere.”
Mr Waring revealed he had “always worked and led a normal life” during his time in the RAF and later in the building trade.
However a failed relationship and ill health proved a catalyst for his decline to the streets - evidence how quickly the tables of life can turn.
Critics of the homeless cite a need for improved self-responsibility, discarding the tough circumstances of rough sleepers as self-inflicted.
But what external factors seem to be fuelling the homeless fire?
Speaking at a housing committee meeting on November 14, Councillor Bill Randall described private rent prices in Brighton and Hove as “going up at an astonishing rate”.
The statement rings true for 54-year-old Linda Blackman, who has been homeless since being evicted from her Portslade flat in September.
Having lived in her Trafalgar Road flat for five years - during of which she claims she never missed a month's rent - the former care and supermarket worker now sleeps in a wet and cold garage lock-up while she waits for housing.
She said: “The landlord wanted me out as they wanted more rent. I was turned out onto the streets and can't find another place because I have no references, they all want financial guarantors and they don't want people on benefits.”
Ms Blackman said she's visited Bartholomew House - Brighton and Hove City Council's housing arm - seven times without success of finding a home.
She was however offered accommodation in Brighton Marina - but claims she was told to “dump her belongings in a skip” before getting there as she had no way of transporting them.
She added: “I didn't know where the place was. I'm from Portslade. Because of that they eventually said I wasn't interested and are now punishing me for it.”
Greg Headley, from homeless charity CRI, said the part of the waiting-process in getting people re-homed was because “hardly any” of the city's landlords accepted tenants on benefits.
He said: “It's not impossible but it often feels like it.
“It's a great challenge finding landlords who want to accept people with benefits.
“In Linda's case she was offered accommodation but was deemed to not want it.
“But we are working to find a resolution for her.”
Brighton and Hove City Council said: “We are determined to help rough sleepers where possible and work hard with our city partners and national bodies to deliver highly effective services to both help rough sleepers and also prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.
"This work includes the No Second Night Out drive to divert first time rough sleepers to services quickly, help specifically to help street drinkers and specialist assessment centres that, together with our health partners, assess rough sleepers’ health needs.
“Over the past six months our own team working with city partners has helped 1,700 people avoid homelessness, for instance by working with families where there is a danger someone might leave, and our target for the whole year is 2,200 so we are ahead of target. A lot of what we do is about prevention."
From frontline fighter to homeless and hapless
John Goodwin, 37, served in the British Army for eight years. After tours of Northern Ireland and Afghanistan, the man from Kent is now sleeping rough in Brighton and Hove.
He said: “Life was good in the army. I was proud. I served Queen and country. But there wasn't any help with adjusting to normal life when I came out.
“I feel let down by society and I hate the Government. I now choose to be out here on the streets. I'm used to it.
“I've now been on the streets for two years. It can be challenging. My girlfriend Faye was recently found dead in public toilets and my other friend died of an overdose Saturday just gone.
"Lea Williams was also my friend. He was murdered.
“Drinking is the only thing you can do on the streets as it numbs the pain.
“But I like being out here now. I don't want to be in a square box. If the council offered me accommodation now I'd say no.
“I've stayed in this doorway, the seafront and I was under the pier when it snowed for six days.
“Someone tried stealing my shoe last night. You always have to be alert, meaning sleep isn't great. I'm always on guard.
”Mr Goodwin added: “There are a lot of new people coming to the city to sleep rough.
“I keep an eye on them and try and help them.“In the last two weeks there has been eight new people on the streets. I tell them where to get shelter, where to get warmth.
“Money doesn't tend to be a problem. We eat better than most people think. This is my life.”
Results and observations of Brighton and Hove City Council's rough sleeper count.
The count team found 50 individuals sleeping rough - seven females, three of which were accommodated, and 43 males, eight of which were accommodated.
One was in private accommodation but refused to return.
One was accommodated outside the city but came to Brighton and Hove to beg.
Five were in Band 2 Hostels, where they stayed out to be with a partner overnight as visitors weren't allowed.
Three were in Band 2 Hostels and they stayed out for “various reasons”.
One was in temporary accomodation, where they refused to stay due to threats from other residents.
Twenty seven had no local connection to Brighton and Hove, but six of those had a connection to Sussex.
Nineteen had a local connection.
Homeless charity CRI, which attended the count, said: “Whilst the number of 50 is high it's important to consider that of that 11 are accommodated and 6 are from Sussex.
“This leaves a real Brighton and Hove rough sleeper count of 35, which is an 18% decrease to last year's count “Q2 saw a 57% increase in new referrals to the team compared to Q2 last year so this highlights that CAIERS and EAC is showing a reduction in the numbers rough sleeping.
“The count clearly highlights issues with Band 2 providers that need to be explored further to see what can be done to prevent those that are accommodated from sleeping out.
“This will be taken forward through the Band 2 managers meeting in December.
“The count also highlighted the need for improved handover of rough sleepers from Brighton and Hove to other Sussex Local Authorities as per the Reconnection Policy.”
Where to get help for homelessness in Brighton and Hove
The Clock Tower Sanctuary - Support centre to around 70 homeless and insecurely housed young people between the ages of 16 and 25 each month.
www.theclocktowersanctuary.org.uk - 01273 722 353
Off The Fence - Offers food, warm drink, emergency clothing and sleeping bags to the homeless and rough sleepers in Brighton and Hove.
www.offthefence.org.uk - 01273 733566
New Steine Mews Hostel - Helps people to prepare for independence by offering accommodation, training and a safe space for those who want to address their substance use.
www.nsmhostel.org.uk - 01273 698024
First Base Day Centre - Offers a range of services to support people who are sleeping rough or insecurely housed in the city to get off the streets.
www.bht.org.uk/services/first-base-day-centre - 01273 326844
CRI - A social care and health charity working with individuals, families and communities across England and Wales that are affected by drugs, alcohol, crime, homelessness, domestic abuse and antisocial behaviour.
www.cri.org.uk - 01273 677 019
Hove Peace Statue Soup Run - Provides food to the homeless and poor of Brighton and Hove. Funded by St Mary Magdalen's Catholic Church, Brighton, with the large majority of volunteers who make soup, coffee and sandwiches for those in need are parishioners of St Mary Magdalen Church.
brighton-soup-run.blogspot.co.uk - 01273 734560
Brighton and Hove Night Shelter Project - A joint venture between the churches of Brighton and Hove, offering overnight accommodation for up to 15 guests each night who would otherwise have been sleeping rough throughout the winter months. The Night Shelter runs until March 28 2014.
www.brightonchurchesnightshelter.co.uk - 01273 698182
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