At a council meeting in January, a Green Party proposal was unanimously passed. It called for empty buildings owned by Brighton and Hove City Council to be made available for use as homeless shelters, with the aim of having a new night shelter open ahead of this winter.
The proposal gave voluntary and community sector groups, who were ‘able and willing’, access to currently vacant Council buildings, and offered support to turn them into temporary homeless shelters.
However, almost a year on, and with temperatures dipping, there remains no news on additional shelters for this winter, despite the fact that churches, community groups, volunteers, and even commercial landlords, have come forward to lend their time, and resources, to support vulnerable people sleeping on the streets of our city.
A 2016 report revealed that homelessness in the city had doubled in a year, and that the rise was the second highest in the country – with 144 rough sleepers on the streets of Brighton & Hove.
Homeless charity Shelter said more than 268,000 people across England are homeless, although the number is a “conservative estimate”, with many more expected to be going unrecorded.
It said the leading cause was the loss of a private tenancy, with three in 10 cases coming as a result.
The government said it was “determined to tackle all forms of homelessness”
As many as one in 25 people are classed as homeless in the worst-affected areas of England, a new study has shown, which identified Brighton as a specific pressure point, where one in 69 people fall into the category.
The number of temporary accommodation households has risen from 35,850 in 2011 to 54,280 at the start of 2017. Shelter believes at least 35% of those households will still be in unreliable homes in a year’s time, showing little end in sight for many.
This is partly down to the number of people losing private tenancies, which the charity says has soared since cuts to housing benefits started in 2011.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, is calling for an “ambitious new direction” from the government to tackle the issue, saying: “On a daily basis, we speak to hundreds of people and families who are desperately trying to escape the devastating trap of homelessness.
“[It is] a trap that is tightening thanks to decades of failure to build enough affordable homes and the impact of welfare cuts.”
On her personal website, Caroline Lucas MP has revealed that she has been told that there could be an announcement from the Council very soon, but she highlights her concern that, with temperatures dropping close to sub-zero at night, progress has been worryingly slow, and that what might be offered will be too little, too late – given the urgent and desperate situation in the city.
The Green MP, and local hero, has written to Brighton and Hove City Council to highlight her concerns about the lack of any announcement to date, and to ask for more information about any barriers to progressing the plans for a night shelter in Brighton and Hove this winter.
Green Party councillors are similarly pushing for the plans to move forward with the urgency needed.
Lucas has pledged to “continue to do all I can in Westminster to challenge the Government on its damaging policies that have led to the drastic increase we are seeing in people rough sleeping. I recognise the additional pressure that funding cuts, and policy changes introduced by Central Government, place on local authorities to support the many vulnerable people finding themselves without a roof over their head – cuts and changes I have consistently opposed at every opportunity.”
In the meantime, we must hope that the Council expedites the plans that it has for a night shelter, to ensure that it is open and accessible to those in need without further delay.
If this is a cause that you agree with, and feel should be forwarded with haste, then contact your local councillor and let your voice be heard.