Increasing numbers of rough sleepers on Brighton and Hove’s streets sparked a political fight in the council chamber.
The updated rough sleeping strategy, presented to Brighton and Hove City Council’s neighbourhoods, inclusion, communities and equalities committee on Monday (October 8), saw Greens and Conservatives challenge the Labour administration’s record.
Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth said it was time for ‘tough love not warm words’ as he believes the rough sleeping strategy should be a more ‘unpopular’ document.
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He said: “Writing it and releasing it would take real guts, some of which was exhibited by this council in introducing litter fines and public space protection orders.
“Not tackling head-on street-drinking is clearly bad for everyone.
“A loving approach to a person in need is not to allow them to sit on the street and drink themselves to death.
“It hurts so many including the retail and tourist industries which provide many of the funds and job opportunities that are required to tackle rough-sleeping properly.
“The same goes for allowing tents on busy streets. Any streets.
“The existing situation in Brighton and Hove is an avoidable national embarrassment and incredibly cruel towards those who need love, help and guidance.”
He called for efforts to tackle drug dealing and middle-class drug use.
In response committee chair Labour councillor Emma Daniel said: “In forcing rough sleepers off the street rather than supporting them? Over my dead body.
“It is not an approach we can ever support. It is a wicked approach especially from a party that has caused this at national level and should feel that shame.”
Green councillor Pete West said that he wanted to put some distance between Councillor Nemeth’s position, which he described as ‘victimising the victim’ while still being critical of the Labour administration.
He said: “Sitting there wringing your hands is disappointing.
“With the best will in the world it is not helping. It is failing rough sleepers.
“Stop trying to suggest it is fine.”
It is estimated that there are currently around 10 new arrivals to the city per week who are either already rough sleeping or at risk of rough sleeping.
Organisations working with the homeless are faced with more than 1,000 people arriving each year.
Green councillor Alex Phillips challenged the council’s use of £10 million of government money on infrastructure.
She said: “The money would have been better used for buildings to house people.”
Councillor Clare Moonan, who speaks for the Labour administration on rough sleeping and homelessness, said that the council was doing more to support rough sleepers than ever before.
She said: “Why is the number of rough sleepers going up?
“More and more rough sleepers are coming on to our streets from the armed forces, due to austerity and the national housing crisis.”
Conservative councillor Ann Norman shared her concerns about the number of ex-military personnel living on the streets.
She said that some people were too traumatised to live in houses and preferred to sleep outside.
As reflected in national trends, the rough sleeper count rose again in November last year to 178.
Brighton and Hove again had the second highest number of rough sleepers out of all the councils in England.
Councillors voted five to four not even to note the report, with most Conservatives and Greens rejecting it.
Sarah Booker-Lewis is the Local Democracy Reporter for Brighton & Hove.