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Steps are being made to solve a city drinking problem
2:30pm Sunday 13th July 2014 in News
The“Sensible on Strength” campaign was launched in November to tackle the “scourge” of drinkers fuelled by super-strength booze in the centre of Brighton and Hove.
The city council claims 82% of the city’s most high profile drinkers have switched to lower strength booze thanks to the voluntary scheme.
But an investigation by The Argus has revealed street drinkers claim they can still buy high-strength alcohol from traders under the counter and some shopkeepers have been left out of pocket by the scheme. Gemma Mitchell reports.
Sensible on Strength was lauded by the city council as a positive step to solving Brighton and Hove’s problems with street drinkers.
Traders were asked to voluntarily pull super strength alcohol off the shelves – any beer, lager or cider above 6% alcohol by volume (abv).
The council claims the scheme – which has 95 businesses signed up including in areas like London Road where street drinking is a problem – has seen 82% of the highest profile drinkers switch to lower strength alcohol and they have become more able to engage with agencies, all in just a few months.
But an investigation by The Argus has found many street drinkers are still getting their hands on super-strength booze, even if shops are part of the council-led project.
A big issue seller on New Road, Brighton, who did not want to be named, said: “You can still get them.
“I know four places in walking distance from here where you can get them no questions asked.”
His statement was met with nods of agreement by four drinkers he was with.
Brian Harrington, who said he is known as The Prince of New Road, said: “We know where to go to get it and that’s it.
“It’s made no difference what so ever. We send someone with all the money then they go and get it all. We get a 24-pack and stash them somewhere.”
A homeless woman, who did not want to be named, said street drinking has got worse in the last year and said a lot of people were switching to drinking high quantities of Scrumpy Jack, which is 6% abv.
She said: “There is so much help for people on drugs but not for people on alcohol, we get swept under the carpet.”
She claimed things were better when there was a wet room in Brighton and said she has been begging for another one to open for years.
A wet room works with problem drinkers and people can freely use alcohol indoors and have access to services and support for their alcohol abuse.
But they have been criticised for enabling drinkers to continue their habit and not create a sober space.
The Old Steine Day Centre, run by substance misuse and mental health charity Equinox, closed seven-and-a-half years ago and substance misuse and mental health charity Equinox, which ran it, has no plans to open another centre in Brighton.
Matty Godfrey, who has been homeless for seven years, said things have got worse, he said: “Now everyone is buying cheap and buying in bulk.” He said he felt the homeless and the “down and outs” were targeted by police.
He said: “There are the homeless lot who sit here and maybe 20 to 30 times a day people come down here and stop people from drinking.”
He pointed out that a new security camera had been installed facing the benches on New Road where homeless people sit and drink.
Steve, 54, a street cleaner for Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “The other day, around Ivory Place, there was three drinkers there and when they left I picked up 17 bottles of White Lightening and that was just a morning’s worth.
“The next day it is the same.
“I have not got a problem with street drinkers, it’s the garbage they leave behind.
“They relieve themselves in every corner they find and I am the one left cleaning up human waste.”
He said that he does not believe the scheme has helped and if anything the percentage of street drinkers has gone up because of the season.
Councillor Stephanie Powell, chairwoman of the city’s licensing committee, which launched the scheme, said: “Shop owners signing up to Sensible on Strength agree not to sell beer, lager and cider above 6% abv and put in place other good practice measures including a refusals system, CCTV and documented training.
“There is a wider effect, too - alcohol-related disorder increases fear of crime and that creates an unpleasant environment for everyone.
“I’d like to thank local businesses for taking part in the scheme and helping to achieve these improvements.”
A council statement said since the scheme started there has been a marked improvement in the lives of people in support for alcoholism.
Jesse Wilde, service manager at Equinox, said: “It is now the exception rather than the rule for our outreach workers to see street drinkers with high strength cans, which is a complete reversal of the situation 12 months ago.
“Drinking weaker alcohol means the street drinkers we work with are more willing to engage with our support, are less likely to put themselves at risk and less likely to impact on their wider community.”
The scheme has had a mixed response from retailers.
Sarah Welsh, 46, owner of Easy Hours on Grand Parade, said she still sees a lot of street drinkers in the area.
Ms Welsh said: “It is definitely strong beer that the alcoholics go for.
“If they didn’t have access to the high percentage alcohol then they wouldn’t be so bad.”
She said if high percentage alcohol is not available at one shop then drinkers simply “go round to the next shop”.
Mansoor Khan, 25, sales assistant at Izzy Bizzy on Queen’s Road, said: “If they want to stop the problem they should stop everyone selling this drink completely.
“In the whole region, nobody should be allowed to sell this drink. If they can do that then it is going to be great.”
Mr Kahn said being a part of the scheme has had a negative impact on business.
He said: “Sales are down because that was their specific drink, they used to drink things like Special Brew a lot.”
He claimed street drinkers now get super strength special brew from retailers in Hove and Whitehawk instead.
A shop assistant from North Street Food and Wine on North Street said he did not believe the scheme had made a difference.
He said he had not seen less street drinkers since the campaign had started and said: “What they want, they want, and that’s it.”
But Mr Khayal, 42, shop assistant at B&W off licence on London Road, has been part of the campaign for more than six months and said that he had seen positive results.
He said: “I think it has made a lot of difference.
“This has not been introduced for joy, it has been introduced for a reason and it’s worked, it is less hassle now.”
B&W is near to St Peters Church, a popular hangout for daytime and street drinkers.
Mr Khayal said he has seen a vast reduction in street drinkers in the shop and by the church.
The owner of East News on Trafalgar Street, who did not want to be named, said he has had much less trouble in his shop since joining the campaign a year ago and it has had no negative impact on his business.
He said: “To be honest I encourage all of them to join, it is better.
“But I don’t know how they would deal with street drinkers if every shop signed up, they would just drink something different.”
He said street drinkers had been travelling out of Brighton to Hove to get high strength alcohol.
Some retailers did not know they were a part of the scheme or even what it is, despite having a Sensible on Strength sticker in their windows.
Mr Mohammed, 50, owner of Well Done in Pavilion Buildings, said: “We are part of it because when you become an off licence you have to be part of everything that increases the aim of the city.”
He said he had not seen much of a difference in the number or the attitude of street drinkers since the scheme was put in place.
Pete Davies, 47, is opening a cafe and creative space for people in recovery and their friends and family on Baker Street this autumn, called Cascade Creative Recovery.
Mr Davies said: “The problem is the amount that is drunk and the fact that people die from alcohol. The problem is not where they drink and what is drunk. That’s the issue that needs to be addressed.
“Problems don’t just go away by cutting strength.”
Jo-Anne Welsh, director at Brighton Oasis Project, a support service for women who have alcohol and drug problems, said women were particularly vulnerable when intoxicated in the street.
She said: “This scheme has made great strides in reducing the harm done across the city.
“Over the years the number of women with alcohol problems accessing Oasis has increased and we’d like to encourage women to get help earlier before problems are too entrenched.”
Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at Alcohol Concern, said: “We support the Sensible on Strength campaign being rolled out because we need to deal with the root of the problem and that is the cheap, strong alcohol itself.
“But we do need to go further than voluntary schemes, and to do this we need a firm commitment from the Government to introduce a minimum unit price, a policy which we know will cut crime and save lives.”
A council spokesperson said: “Sensible on Strength is a voluntary scheme. There are clear benefits in terms of public health and anti-social behaviour and it is proving popular with residents and businesses.
“Where street drinking and anti-social behaviour is linked to specific licensed premises, residents, the police and the council can ask for the licence to be reviewed.
“This can lead to shops losing their licence.”