Renewed call to open empty buildings for rough sleepers

Rough sleepers in Brighton
Rough sleepers in Brighton

Vacant council buildings should be used to shelter the homeless in poor weather, a Green councillor will tell his peers next week.

Cllr Tom Druitt is set to put a motion to Full Council on Thursday, asking for urgent action on the homelessness crisis in Brighton and Hove.

Tom Druitt, Green councillor SUS-160721-102444001

Tom Druitt, Green councillor SUS-160721-102444001

He said: “Brighton and Hove now has one of the worst rates of homelessness outside of London. Loss of private rented housing is the most common single cause for being accepted as homeless. But so too is domestic violence, and eviction.

“Sleeping on the streets kills, and campaigners have already highlighted the deaths of more than three rough sleepers in the city over the festive period. It seems crazy that during this time we have empty houses, shops, offices and other commercial premises that could be used to offer relief, and yet they are not used. My hope is that by setting a good example with city council buildings, we can also inspire action from the business community too.”

Cllr Druitt will ask that all vacant city council buildings are freed up for homeless charities to use as temporary shelters. He said similar schemes have been rolled out in Manchester and Bristol, and with the number of rough sleepers on the rise in Brighton, he hopes the proposal will relieve pressure on local charities and shelters. Recent reports have highlighted that as of May last year, the city’s hostel beds and mental health hostel beds are full, with 103 people currently waiting for a hostel. The most up to date figures from November 2016, estimated that 140 people sleep rough in Brighton and Hove.

Cllr Clare Moonan, lead member for rough sleeping, said: “We are of course always happy to work with the opposition parties and all partners to bring forward any innovative ideas that can reduce the need for people to sleep rough. The option of using empty buildings has been raised previously, but this is a complex issue, including whether this can be done safely for those in need, and the significant cost implications for opening buildings. There may be better and safer ways to care for people than this option but we will always consider any ideas, including from other cities, as we tackle this together.”

‘Shelters must be safe for all’

Andy Winter, chief executive of the Brighton Housing Trust (BHT), said he welcomed Cllr Druitt’s plan, but said safety measures must be in place.

He said: “I welcome calls for council-owned buildings to be opened to house rough sleepers, but this must be done with proper planning, adequate safety measures in place, and properly trained staff employed.

“If this is to be done, discussions and planning need to start now for next winter. It isn’t a cheap option, but it is one that can save lives and would demonstrate that we are a caring society.

“BHT currently operates an emergency shelter in the event of extreme weather, and the churches run a rolling shelter throughout the winter. BHT used to operate a shelter throughout the winter, in buildings that were adapted for the purpose, and where we were funded to employ staff with the necessary training.

“I would hope that, given the funding restrictions imposed on local councils, the government would create a fund so that such shelters can be planned for and opened next winter.

“If we are to do this, the shelters need to be safe for all who use them, not least homeless women.”