The following is my blog for today and was also published this morning in the weekend Argus in the Guest slot: Our Government is currently facing challenges on so many levels that it is something of a surprise when they emerge in a positive light. This happened in the run up to Christmas when many of us were beginning to wind down for the holidays. On 21st December Theresa May and Sajid Javid the Government Minister responsible for Communities and Local Government visited a newly formed charity called the Thames Reach Employment Academy in Peckham. The visit was planned to launch funding for services to support homeless people across the country. Amongst the local Councils that have benefited from this funding is Brighton and Hove City Council. Mrs May said “In the run up to Christmas, images of soup kitchens and hostels remind us of the vital lifeline provided by charities and local services to those facing a night on the streets.” Although these words are not very radical, they do come from a Government whose previous leader was unwilling to even visit a foodbank for many years and so this statement should not be treated lightly. It remains to be seen if the Government is willing to remain outside of its comfort zone now the festive season is over. However the cold winter weather is at its most severe so let us hope that we continue to hear from these politicians and indeed all political parties about how vital they see this sort of work.
While there are questions regarding how serious the politicians are in their desire to deal with this issue, the same cannot be said of those providing services in our City and in some of our neighbouring towns. In Brighton and Hove we are fortunate to have a number of long established and well run charities which provide accommodation and support for homeless people 365 days a year. These include Brighton Housing Trust, The two YMCAs, Off the Fence, Clocktower Sanctuary and St Patricks. One vital element that was at the heart of St Patricks from the outset of their work with the homeless community was the use of the church hall for an emergency night shelter. Unfortunately this became a matter of contention with the City Council and was deeply unpopular with local residents. When the night shelter was closed down after a long dispute with the management of the building, a number of local churches decided that they still wanted to be able to provide temporary accommodation for the vulnerable people who lack accommodation in the city. During the winter months from November to March over a total of 18 weeks currently ten churches open up their buildings on specific nights to provide a temporary home for up to 15 people. Known as Brighton and Hove Churches Winter Night Shelter this collaborative project has been operating for six years and it is a testament to the commitment of these churches to meet this need. The success of this project is partly because the shelter moves from one church to another each night, preventing any sense of permanence for those who have nowhere else to sleep or for the neighbours of the churches. This approach means that the 10 churches involved do not have to provide accommodation every night and the volunteers are not faced with demands that are beyond their resources. Each night that the shelter is open, some 22 volunteers help prepare the spaces into which these people will sleep and to provide breakfast and evening meals each day.
So far this winter a total of 30 homeless people have been helped by the nightshelter and 10 of these have moved on to more permanent accommodation this winter. As one of the workers explained “Over the years working with people experiencing homelessness we’ve come to realise that the solution is never as simple as just a roof over someone’s head and a place to stay in a warm bed. We find that those experiencing homelessness have suffered relational poverty, somewhere along the line a relationship has gone wrong and broken down and it’s damaged people in such a severe way it’s rendered them homeless. That is why we think the Night Shelter is so important because it is through rebuilding relationships and befriending that people find the road to recovery” Sadly for each person sleeping on our streets or in a church hall, there are many more who are at daily risk of joining them. Whilst Governments cannot provide us with healthy relationships, they can ensure that the practical needs faced by these people are met in an effective way. Meanwhile the hard work carried out by the various schemes in our city depends extensively on the support from each of us. Anyone who wants to know more about the churches nightshelter should contact Toby Lancaster on 01273 698 182 or firstname.lastname@example.org