VOLUNTEERS from churches across Brighton and Hove have been offering homeless people roast beef, bread and butter pudding and a bed for the night, Roz Scott reports.

Churches across the city have been filling the void ever since the St Patrick’s night shelter closed three years ago but with the number of homeless people in the city, believed to be about 115, they face big challenges in helping all of those who need it.

Guests at the Holland Road Baptist Church in Hove tuck into a roast dinner followed by bread and butter pudding before bedding down in the church hall. The Baptist Church is just one of 14 churches which have been helping the homeless through the winter.

They provide shelter for 15 people on a rolling system which sees the visitors move on to a different church each night.

Volunteer Rebecca Ariaman got involved with the night shelter at Holland Road last year and enjoyed it so much she kept coming back to help and she became the coordinator.

She said: “I have a real passion for it. I just love talking to them and there was a great atmosphere.”

By day she runs her own make-up and cosmetic business.

Ms Ariaman is very clear that all of the guests know that most of the volunteers have religious faith, but she said it would not be fair to impose her “worldview”.

There is an open invitation given to all guests to the evening service at Holland Road on a Sunday evening, led twice a month. This makes it a lively event.

She enjoys seeing the guests around town but finds it heartbreaking when people keep coming back as they are still homeless.

She said two men who began staying last year have become Christians and now have a flat together. Coordinators work across the churches and take referrals from the First Base Day Centre, run by the Brighton Housing Trust and the charities Anti-Freeze and CRI, among other organisations.

Another guest from Hungary is a gardener who cannot find work. Volunteer John Walters said he helps “for the love of it”. “These men and women need help,” he said.

“I am serving Christ, they need someone to be responsible. It is a sacrifice but small compared to the reward and privilege of helping them out.”

One of the guests, named only as Andy, said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Andy said many of the people who are homeless have mental health problems He added: “Many men go to prison and pay their debts to society but they are not allowed into the hostels when they come out.

“Society needs to trust people.”

Andy was previously a security guard, travelling to work at Old Trafford, Ascot, the Grand National and all the major music festivals. He remembers working at a David Bowie concert in 2000 and once opened the door for the Queen.

He added: “I am responsible for my life.”

Andy said a judge once told him he was a “victim of a society that doesn’t care and doesn’t understand.”

The Argus:

Rough sleepers under Palace Pier

‘We need to build’

A HOMELESS charity boss has called for housing associations to build, build and then build more to help solve problems of homelessness.

Andy Winter, chief executive of the Brighton Housing Trust, said the homeless numbers are much worse than even three years ago and more needs to be done to move people off the streets.

He said: “It is not possible to go out in Brighton without passing several people bedded down in shop doorways. “This has an emotional impact on all of us and isn’t right in one of the wealthiest areas in Britain.

“From an economic point of view, having rough sleeping isn’t good for the image of Brighton. “It isn’t a case of them being ‘swept away’ but they need to be moved off the street in a planned and sustainable manner.

“The increase is due to a combination of high rents, a shortage of affordable homes, the failure of large housing associations to build homes with social rents, and the loss of many of the traditional safety nets that previously existed.

“The situation would be much worse if it wasn’t for the excellent work being undertaken by many organisations in the city, including the council, the police, CRI, BHT and others.”

He said there are believed to be 115 homeless people in Brighton and Hove with more in the summer.

Mr Winter added: “Most of the people on the streets have a local connection to Brighton and Hove.

“At Brighton Housing Trust and their First Base Day Centre, we support them to start realising their aspirations through work, learning and leisure and find a place they can call home.

“It is a real place of change and without it far fewer people would move off the streets. The impact is measured by the positive changes people experience in their lives, including the numbers moving into accommodation.”

Mr Winter said that without the current supported housing projects, the number of men and women on the streets in the city would be nearer 300. This includes the distinctive containers developed by BHT that house 36 homeless men and women in self-contained flats in Richardsons Yard.

He said: “The impact is also measured by reductions in ambulance call outs, A&E admissions and other wider issues.

“The homelessness situation in Brighton will only improve if we build, build and then build more, but these new homes must not be for wealthy people cashing in on property prices in London, but for people who need to live and work locally. These homes need to be affordable, both to buy and to rent.”

Mr Winter criticised successive governments who, he said, have allowed the sale of council houses, a quarter of which return as homes for rent in the private sector at three or four times the social rents previously charged by the council. He added: “This policy has been politically popular but a disaster for those who need to rent.

“We also need to protect that accommodation that provides somewhere to live for the most difficult to house, making sure that support is in place to help people manage their tenancies.

In Brighton the situation would be much, much worse had it not been for the current and previous administrations on the council protecting funding for housing and support for those in the greatest need. This all-party approach has served the city well, but changes are needed at a national level to ensure that truly affordable homes are built to meet local need.”

The Argus:

Brighton Housing Trust chief executive Andy Winter calls for construction work

115 on the streets

LAST summer the number of homeless people in Brighton and Hove was believed to be as high as 160.

In November the official homeless count was down to 41 but that figure was believed to be unrealistic due to the number of people squatting at that time.

Andy Winter, chief executive of the Brighton Housing Trust, said the latest figure is believed to be 115.

There are a number of services available in the city for rough sleepers, from hostels to helplines.

Brighton and Hove City Council runs a rough sleepers street services team who can be contacted on 0808 168 0414 or 01273 234010 by anyone sleeping rough or who knows somebody struggling with homelessness.

The council also commissions a rough sleepers, street services and relocation team to deal with anyone that is found sleeping rough.

The aim of the team is to engage with rough sleepers and find solutions to the problem by finding accommodation in the city or reconnecting them back to areas that they have come from, with appropriate support. A number of shelters, hostels and services are around the city including St Peter’s Church in York Place, Brighton, Shelter in Western Road, Brighton, Brighton and Hove Foyer in Pelham Street, Hove and the First Base Centre in Montpellier Place, Brighton.