It’s Know My Neighbour Week and writer Jo Sutherland takes a look at homelessness in Brighton, meeting some of the people making do on the streets and those that are trying to help.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
This beautiful city of ours has something for everyone. I’ve lost track of the amount of people I know who moved here on a ‘temporary’ basis and never left. I’m one of them. After spending twelve years wandering around like a nomad, I’ve never felt more at home than I do here in Brighton. And we’re famously good at celebrating the love for our colourful city and focusing on the local.
But Brighton has a growing problem, one that perhaps isn’t talked about as much as it should be.
Every day, every single one of us will walk by somebody who’s living rough on the street, but aside from The Big Issue and homeless charity newsletters, there’s not many us of rallying against the state of our streets.
Statistics only carry so much weight, but due to the ‘hidden’ nature of homelessness and the lack of voice for those that suffer, they shine a light on the startling hidden truth.
- Latest figures by Homeless.org.uk, collected in the autumn of 2015 and published in February 2016, reveal that 3,569 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night. This is 30% more than the previous year.
- The South East has seen a 36% increase in rough sleeping; meaning this region is markedly higher than the national average. In fact, the South East has the second highest rate of homeless applications in England after London.
- In 2015, Brighton and Hove was reported as having one of the highest levels of rough sleeping; only topped by Bristol and Westminster.
- If you thought an increase of 36% was bad, homelessness in Brighton and Hove has gone up by 90% in the space of a year.
Our city – our home – is fairing far worse than the national average. But you don’t need the facts and stats to tell you there’s a problem.
I walk to work and every day and I pass people, young and old, living on the streets. I feel I’m part of the problem. I shy away from conversations because I don’t know what to say. I never just ignore the homeless but I don’t always ask how they are, and my eyes seldom lock and linger long on theirs.
Sometimes I see others sitting next to people wrapped up in sleeping bags on the roadside, having a chat over a cup of coffee. And I wish I were brave enough to do the same. But I’m not and I don’t. Because I feel awkward. Because I feel guilty and because I’m nervous about saying or doing the wrong things.
That’s my confession. But I doubt I’m alone and that’s why I decided to write this article.
“Poverty is not an accident.
Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the action of human beings.”
I first heard of The Clock Tower Sanctuary when I started working at the PR, communications and content agency, Magenta Associates. Magenta donates a percentage of its profits to the charity which provides the only drop-in service giving all-round information, advice and support to homeless young people (aged 16-25) in Brighton & Hove.
I spoke to the lovely folks at the Sanctuary and some of the young people living rough to find out a bit more.
“Being homeless at any age is not easy,” said Natalia Borg, Development Co-ordinator at The Clock Tower Sanctuary. “But being young and vulnerable on the streets of Brighton – the ‘Drugs Capital of the UK’ – presents some of the most challenging conditions for people to transition into adulthood.”
I also spoke to several young people who have found themselves without a home; the questions I asked were designed to help me understand the little things we can all do to make a difference, and to find out how the homeless feel about everyday situations.
[The individuals in question chose to remain anonymous]
If the shoe were on the other foot, how would you treat those living on the streets?
- “If I didn’t know how it felt, I probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid. But now I know I wouldn’t judge their looks – looking scruffy doesn’t mean they’re a bad person.”
What do you prefer – small change or food / coffee?
- “Food and coffee.”
- “Small change so I can go to Aldi.”
What’s the kindest thing anyone’s ever done for you?
- “Just making me feel safe. Sleeping rough is so scary. You never know what is going to happen or what is just around the corner.”
- “I was sitting in McDonald’s and I was upset; someone asked me if I was hungry and he bought me some food as I hadn’t had a hot meal for a few days. It meant a lot.”
Is there anything you’d like to say to the people who don’t know about homelessness?
- “Don’t judge a book by its cover. I had a full-time job and come from a wealthy family, but due to mental health issues and sheer circumstance, I ended up on the streets. It could happen to anyone.”
- “Sleeping rough is cold, lonely and you feel so vulnerable. Your whole focus is on just staying dry. We have reasons to be afraid.”
- “Most of us are here through nothing other than circumstance.”
“Homeless people care about other homeless people.”
According to Homeless Link, the main reason young people become homeless is due to family breakdown. Young people kicked out of home, often turn to the streets and, for many, that transition can prompt a dependence on alcohol, hard drugs and sometimes crime.
“Many of the young homeless that visit the centre have suffered abuse, neglect or been exposed to alcohol and substance dependency when growing up,” says Natalia Borg. “our mission is simple – we aim to prevent vulnerable young people from becoming part of the long-term homeless population.”
“The number of young people facing homelessness is rising and with the average life expectancy of a rough sleeper at just forty-seven years old, we are focused on getting young people get back on track,” she says. “We are very fortunate to have such dedicated supporters in the local community and we welcome people to visit our website to find out how they can help homeless young people in our city”.
There is a housing crisis. And this crisis is in the heart of our city.
From my conversations, it appears it’s the little things that count – like stopping for a chat, buying someone a hot meal, or just letting them know you care. You can also support the homeless by donating to charities like The Clock Tower Sanctuary or, if you haven’t the money, you can donate your time. When you’re cleaning out the closets and the cupboards, drop items off at homeless charity shops or you could even ask the people living on the streets whether they’d like any of the things you no longer need.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”
It doesn’t take the world to change the world. If home is where the heart is, then let’s all try to put some heart back into our home.
To find out more about youth homelessness in Brighton and Hove and how you can help, please visit The Clock Tower Sanctuary and give them a like on Facebook.
Hear Will’s story in the video below about his time living on the streets of Brighton .
Cover photo by Dominic Alves. The photo is of graffiti art work used to highlight the danger of homeless people sleeping in rubbish bins and are consequently at risk of being automatically tipped into a dump truck in the morning. There has been at least one known mortality.