I have lived in Brighton since the late 1970s and the town and now city has always attracted men and occasionally women to find refuge on our beach or streets. This is not a challenge limited to Brighton & Hove, most of the places that attract street-sleepers to their locality are coastal towns or cities. The numbers of people living on our Streets since my arrival as a student has fluctuated but has never been eradicated, despite the attempts and promises by various Council administrations over 40 years. Some Councils including the current administration criticise their predecessors and make unrealistic promises about what they can achieve, but because the problem is bigger than the city, they always fail as this Council is bound to do. The failure of the current administration will be amplified by the decisions taken to close certain vital services as a result of national austerity cuts. Although some of those on our Streets have previously lived here in more suitable accommodation, many more have travelled here to live rough from other parts of the UK and in a few cases from other nations. In the 1990’s I founded a charity called FareShare that now distributes nearly 500 tonnes of surplus food a year to charities many of which meet the needs of homeless people in Brighton and Hove and in other parts of Sussex. The work I personally carried out for FareShare and vicariously as a Trustee and now steering group member has given me enormous insight into the charities and individuals who work tirelessly to help address the issue. Sometimes their work is supported and facilitated by the Council, and sometimes it is frustrated by the Council. Some of their efforts achieve positive results and sometimes their efforts are counterproductive and creates danger for others. I coordinated the City’s Street Pastor scheme for 5 years from its inception and in that time met many of those who sleep on the streets of the City in the area between Rock Gardens and Preston Street, between North Street and the Beach. In 40 years, I believe we have never been better served by the Police, some parts of the Council and the Voluntary Sector as we are today (and have been for the last 4-5 years) when it comes to coordinated activities to address the needs of the street sleeping community. Having just spent time with a few of these agencies I am confident that this continues to be the case and the work continues to make a huge difference. Yet despite this in the last few days some journalists and elected representatives have failed to see things as they really. For what it is worth I would urge all commentators and Politicians who think differently, to look a bit harder and actually examine the facts, rather than relying on their prejudice! For the rest of us, giving cash to beggars as Andy Winter has expressed so well this week simply exasperates the problem and those people who do it should stop their well-meaning but deeply damaging behaviour!
A shortened version of this blog is published today in The Argus as an opinion piece – I hope that they along with some other notable people in the city like Caroline Lucas can see their reflection in my words.