David Gibson: Why are more people sleeping rough in Brighton and Hove?

Rough sleepers are a familiar sight in Brighton
Rough sleepers are a familiar sight in Brighton

Brighton and Hove has experienced a 128 per cent increase in rough sleeping numbers. Spending a night on the streets is one of the most visible, and cruel outcomes of the housing crisis. Why can’t one of wealthiest countries in the world house its people?

Both locally and nationally, the reasons behind this appalling trend are complex. In contrast with the housing programmes of the 1960s that saw Tory and Labour Governments build almost 200,000 council homes per year, the failure of governments over the last 40 years to build homes or regulate the market has been a disaster. National government abolished both rent controls and longer more secure private rented tenancies. They also sold off council properties through the ‘right to buy’ scheme. Here in Brighton and Hove, over 2,000 were lost to our city this way. Add poverty wages and punitive benefit changes from the Conservative Government to this toxic mix and it’s not surprising that homelessness is on the rise nationwide.

Cllr David Gibson

Cllr David Gibson

Official figures show that since Labour’s plan to end rough sleeping launched in 2015, rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove is up 128 per cent compared with a national increase of 33 per cent. Brighton and Hove has experienced the largest increase in the whole country. A few councils have reduced their rough sleeper numbers over the same period and we can learn from them.

Greens want to see the council seriously consider a whole raft of measures that would help to reduce rough sleeping. Other councils prioritise rough sleepers with a local connection for an offer of accommodation. Here in Brighton and Hove, the numbers of supported bed spaces have been cut – meaning longer waits for rough sleepers to get housing. It is a scandal that rough sleepers wait on average three months for accommodation in our city. Waiting on the streets for long periods puts people at greater risk of poor health, as well as drink and drug addictions that make it harder to hold down accommodation when it finally arrives. This cycle of repeat homelessness means there are more people in our city who need greater support than many other areas. The Labour council here could prioritise housing rough sleepers. This was done over last winter helping to reduce rough sleeper numbers. Initiatives like Housing First works on the basis that the first thing to do is to get people off the streets. With a roof over their heads, people have a firm base from which to receive unconditional support to overcome mental health issues or substance misuse. First piloted under the Greens, this approach has been proven to help the most entrenched rough sleepers break the cycle and achieve permanent accommodation. Yet while Greens found funds to expand Housing First, the other parties voted it down.

Working collaboratively with the community can be the key to tackling our city’s housing problems. It’s great that schemes like Galvanise, a project recruiting hundreds of volunteers concerned about homelessness, have been supported by the council. To prevent homelessness together, we need to do more to harness this community energy. Working more with projects such as the Homeless Support Bus and the shelters run by our voluntary and church groups would boost our capacity.

It’s clear the public are concerned and want to help. Brighton’s newest night shelter opened over the winter following a huge community petition and funding found by the Greens in the last council budget. The night shelter reduced rough sleeper numbers, with the manager commenting that it ‘saved lives.’ Work needs to start on replacing the closed Brighton night shelter with 365-day facility that helps rough sleepers move on quickly off the streets to supported accommodation. We also need to find innovative ways to expand provision of supported and move on accommodation.

The most vulnerable in our city should not have to wait months for shelter. The housing scandal is a crisis and it needs to be treated as one.

David Gibson is the housing spokesperson for the Greens on Brighton and Hove City Council.