Volunteers spoke movingly of their experience of talking rough sleepers last week, as part of a campaign to end street homelessness in the city by 2020.
The Galvanise Brighton and Hove campaign saw 180 volunteers give up their time to speak to 125 rough sleepers in the city, to find out how they became homeless, and what their hopes and aspirations are for the future.
At a community debrief event at the i360 on Tuesday (December 6), one volunteer Sally Duffy, said: “I am Brighton born and bred, so I have really grown up with the constant presence of homelessness. I felt increasingly helpless walking past people on the street and not knowing how to help them.
“I thought it was a really good opportunity to make radical and lasting change.
“People should not been seen as numbers, they should be seen as individuals.”
She explained how certain perceptions she had of rough sleepers was changed after the experience, and that she had assumed there was a community of homeless that knew each other and looked out for one another,
“We met a guy who was sleeping rough and he said that he had no friends,” she said. “That was something that really stayed with me long after we walked away from him.”
The ‘Connections Week’ event saw volunteers go out and speak to rough sleepers, with an extensive 45-question survey in the early hours and late at night, as well as visits to day centres. Run by YMCA Downslink and Brighton YMCA, in partnership with the council and other local services, Galvanise hopes to pull together a report with recommendations for the City’s Rough Sleepers Strategy.
Chas Walker, chief executive of YMCA Downslink, said the aim of the campaign is to ‘raise awareness and galvanise support across the community and see if together we can find some solutions to rough sleeping in our city.’
Niki Rowe, from YMCA Downslink, revealed some of the early findings from the survey. She said 85 per cent of those surveyed were from European countries (including the UK), 38 per cent came to Brighton and Hove in the last 12 months, 15 per cent were in employment, and 22 per cent had been a child in care.
Kerry Holgate from Brighton YMCA, said 58 per cent of young people had become homeless after a traumatic experience, more than three quarters had been assaulted or beaten up while sleeping rough, and that 47 per cent had attended A&E in the last six months.
More than half reported having nothing in their lives that makes them feel happy or fulfilled.
She said the causes of homelessness in general were relationship breakdown, loss or bereavement, drug and alcohol use and financial difficulties.
On why people come to Brighton and Hove she said there is a ‘perception there are good services’, and one rough sleeper said: “There is a lot of help in Brighton and Hove and the community is welcoming to a diverse group of people.”
The survey also found that three-quarters of rough sleepers are registered with a GP, and 83 per cent reported they were able to meet basic needs like bathing, changing clothes.
Niki said that being housed was the top priority for rough sleepers, but there was a feeling that they had to ‘jump through hoops’ to do so.
She said: “There is a real lack of affordable housing, it is particularly difficult in Brighton. A lot of people are priced out of the private rented sector, do not meet the threshold for statutory housing and do not have a hope in hell of getting a mortgage. That is a really desperate situation to be in. People want to supported and housed.”
Galvanise volunteer Tracey Wilkes said: “I originally signed up for two evening shifts but have just finished my third morning shift in a row. Getting up at 4am in the cold when tired is not an ideal start to my morning.
"Giving myself a talking to about how I am leaving a warm bed gave me the motivation to get up and feel a bit ashamed of moaning as I was about to engage with people who do not have this option.
"Over three mornings between 5am to 9am, we interviewed a number of street homeless men. There was charismatic Ben, sleeping on the streets for 15 years, his partner had been killed by a drunk driver and he fell out with his landlady when he saw her driving over the limit. There was Mark, 32 and homeless through a relationship break up. And John a painter and decorator homeless through relationship breakdown and doesn’t see his four kids – all had a story.”
Cllr Clare Moonan, the council’s lead member for rough sleeping, said: “What a compassionate and caring city we live in. 180 volunteers, it really demonstrates that people care. We are going to be doing a lot more work to crunch that data and really listen to what it’s telling us.
To find out more , visit: www.galvanisebh.org