Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Rough Sleepers and the Rough Sleepers Team

Paul is a regular recipient of soup and sandwiches on the St Mary Magdalen Soup Run. He's been in Brighton for 6 months having left Nottingham and is concerned about what he will do when winter comes.

I managed to talk with him on Sunday after Mass at St Mary Magdalen Church, having recognised him from the Soup Run. He sleeps at various points along the seafront of Brighton, in a tent with another homeless man.

We talked at length about homelessness and in particular the efforts, or lack thereof, of the Council to provide assistance to them. Paul's experience of the services offered by the Council have been less than satisfactory.

Paul says, "The big problems I am facing at the moment in my dealings with the Council is the local connection policy and in particular I have problems with the Rough Sleepers Team."

The Rough Sleepers Team's full name is the Rough Sleepers, Street Services & Relocation Team (RSSSRT). They do attempt to facilitate hostel accommodation and housing to rough sleepers, but for those without a 'local connection' to Brighton, a great deal of pressure is placed on those rough sleepers to 'relocate'. But what does this mean in reality?

Paul says, "I know several people in Brighton who have taken up the offer to 'relocate' only to return to the surprise and bemusement of the Rough Sleepers Team. What they basically do is buy you a one way ticket to Sheffield, or Portsmouth or wherever you are come from. Then that person is just expected to go and establish himself somewhere else with little or no assistance. It's ridiculous. Of course they come back here. They've got nobody where they came from. That's why they left. At least here there is the sea and they've made a few friends."

Indeed. Given that many of the homeless in Brighton have psychological problems and numerous issues, it is unsurprising that they are unable to put down roots where they are sent. Impoverished, they are sent away to a town where they may no longer have a connection with anybody. Nobody is facilitating housing for them at the other end, nobody is supporting them there either and there will be a wait for them to obtain benefits and who is to say that the housing crisis will be much better there?

Paul has no intention of leaving Brighton to go back to Nottingham and, indeed, why should he? Brighton is a welcoming town to those with money. Brighton is literally bending over backwards to make itself appealing to a certain kind of individual; wealthy, independent, perhaps unattached, employed, maybe even purchasing a second home by the sea. These people aren't asked to 'relocate', are they?

Paul talked about Brighton Housing Trust (BHT). I told him that I expected that they were a little 'too close' to the Council and that I had seen them talking with homeless men and women, giving them train tickets and getting as much personal information as they could from them. I was shocked to hear that Paul, due to his refusal to leave Brighton, has actually been excluded from the services offered by First Base, BHT's homeless service in the Montpelier part of town.

"I was involved in a project there, I was able to eat there, have a cup of tea, use their shower, use the computer and be involved with what was going on there. Then, after they talked with me about what my 'plans' were and I told them I didn't want to go to Sheffield or wherever they decided I should go, they excluded me totally. I can't use their services now. I can't have a shower there now. I didn't do anything wrong, I was just honest and told them that I'd really like to live in Brighton and establish myself here."

So, it appears that even a charity in Brighton purporting to be on the side of the homeless are, in fact, operating the same policy which stigmatises the homeless that the Council do. A half an hour walk around Brighton, not even taking into consideration the numerous empty properties you will see boarded up, many under Council supervision, will tell you there are plenty of properties 'to let'. If Paul had enough money to raise a deposit for a studio flat or one bed flat then Brighton would not be problematic for him and he would not be sleeping rough. If Paul were a 'professional' he'd be very welcome in Brighton. Unfortunately, he has not got the funds to do that. He isn't a drinker and he is not drug dependent, so he isn't spending his money on that. His JSA/Income Support money helps him to survive. Obviously, getting a job with no fixed address is impossible, so, he finds himself where he is, sleeping in a tent and being woken up at 6 am, sometimes earlier, being harrassed and asked to move on by the RSSSRT who keep asking him, "What are you still doing here?"

That is a question to which Paul replies, "Well, why should I not be here?" He is right. Freedom of movement, freedom itself really depends upon individuals being allowed to go where they want, when they want, to whichever town they choose. That freedom, to move, to locate, to ramble or to establish oneself in another city is not one that should be removed from anyone - and certainly not the homeless - and, what is more, should not be dependent on a person's personal finances alone. We cannot have freedom of movement for one class of people and internal deportation for another who are stigmatised.

So, the question is, why does the Council in Brighton and Hove operate a Rough Sleepers Team with an explicit internal deportation scheme for those who arrive here, hoping to live in the 'city by the sea'? The suspicion has to be that the Council is concerned not about homelessness nor for the welfare of rough sleepers, but the image of the city, the tourism trade and the fact that homelessness (and it is absolutely rife, have no doubt) in Brighton and Hove simply does not look good.

The Council's policy towards the homeless is itself contradictory. They claim there are only seven people sleeping rough. This is patently untrue and I know it because the Soup Run today fed 31 people by the peace statue alone. Well over half of these men and women are sleeping rough. Then, the Council claim that the 'local connection' policy is in operation because Brighton is 'full' and there is a crisis in housing so people must be sent back from whence they claim. Yet, surely, if there are really only 7 people sleeping rough in Brighton, putting up these 7 people should not be too problematic. There are properties for rent everywhere.

The Council perpetuate a 'crisis' situation in order to operate a policy which persecutes the homeless, quite deliberately. Not only that, but this Council wastes hundreds of thousands of pounds a year paying their 'rough sleepers team'.

If you think about it, just for a moment, there must be a team of around 20 'rough sleepers team members' on a salary of around £15,000 to £18,000 a year, at least. That's £300,000. Then, add to that figure the amount paid to the admin team in the 'rough sleepers' department. Let's say there are 10 of them in that department on £15,000 a year. That's comes to an annual cost of...


Let's say there are 40 people sleeping rough in Brighton, which, I know, is a low estimate. How much would it cost to raise a deposit of £1000 for these 40 people and put them in one bed flats?

The answer is...


Perhaps something for David Cameron and his 'Big Society' to think about.

Friday, 2 July 2010

An Open Letter to Caroline Lucas from a Recipient of the Soup Run


Dear Ms Lucas,

Congratulations. Laurence asked me to say what I would like from you now that you're an MP. So, I said I'd write something here, free, gratis and for nothing, selected more or less at random, here are a few little ideas.

We also discussed the possibility of you losing your seat, given that you have what is effectively a 3 and a half way split, should another election happen along, as it were. I think this is unlikely,

In British parliamentary elections we vote for the individual not the party and long may this continue to be the case. Good sitting MPs have an advantage and in your case many people who might have regarded a vote for you as a wasted vote have changed their minds. Political parties are merely vehicles which our representatives form themselves in order to carry forward certain policies and any of them could disappear tomorrow with no constitutional implications whatsoever, and long may that continue to be the case. This doesn't please the progressives.

I'll take this opportunity to recommend (again) Shirley Letwin's incomparably brilliant work of (stealth) philosophy, 'The Gentleman in Trollope, Individuality and Moral Conduct' (McMillan, 1982), still, tragically, out of print, possibly because it might be a little too subtle for its own good. The boy Oliver really should get round to reading it sometime. Then he could explain to his friends George and Dave that progressive Conservatism is an oxymoron.

A) When the time comes for what convention dictates should be the automatic re-election of the Speaker, let your voice be the first to cry 'No!', to the extent that the press report 'MPs led by the Green Party's Caroline Lucas...' I don't suppose you'll be alone. He was only imposed on Parliament by the out-going Government in a characteristic act of childish vindictiveness. Even if you are you'll certainly make yourself some friends in the press. The possible downside is that in the extremely unlikely event that Bercow is still Speaker in 5 years time, you may still be waiting to make your first intervention.

I was going to suggest that Frank Field was the ideal replacement but it seems Cameron has other ideas for him (yipee!).  There must be someone else among your number who possesses wisdom and quiet authority. A good Speaker is one of whom the general public is barely aware and you're certainly going to need one this session.

B) Regardless of what one thinks of anthropogenic global warming, I think that we can all agree that finite supplies of materials and energy is a concern. Nor is it controversial to suggest that the processes involved in manufacture of a car use more energy than the car uses in its lifetime. I remember once when working for a farmer in Greece, discussing his 1957 Opal pick-up (still probably going strong), "for life" he said, "a man needs one wife...and one car." Hmm! Perhaps they don't make them like that anymore.

So why, and I don't mean just as part of the 'scrappage' scheme, but routinely, does the Government crush perfectly good vehicles. Surely, it can't be beyond the wit of man to re-register these vehicles and auction them off to the benefit of the public purse. The money recouped might could be enough to employ, I dunno, two 'diversity outreach' team leaders.

C) When a business goes bust there is a pecking order among the creditors which runs something like this:
i) H.M Customs and Excise
ii) H.M Inland Revenue
iii) The Banks
iv) Large corporations with permanent legal departments
v) Medium sized companies which can (just about afford to employ lawyers to pursue their money and can afford to wait for it.
vi) Small companies and some sole traders who can't.

The inevitable consequence of this is that when a medium sized business fails there is a domino effect among small businesses which traded with it.

Jonah Goldberg in his brilliant book, 'Liberal Fascism' describes what happened when the corporatist left cosies up with big business on page 293.

'It was not only inevitable but intended for big business to get bigger and the little guys to get screwed.'

Jonah Goldberg's book lists 'progressive' or 'progressivism' in the index as occurring no less than 163 times. Presumably, these people's first reading of '1984' was punctuated by little grunts of agreement and 'Oh, that's a  good idea, I hadn't thought of that!'

In this country one might say that politicians, when dealing with business are either too naive to realise that these people don't actually believe in competition or are perhaps too cynical to care. Incidentally, why is it that the word 'progressive' has suddenly erupted into politics in apparently approving terms? And not in a good way. Progressivism and its sister movements have caused untold human suffering as well as a wasted century. One can only ponder with dismay how immeasurably richer our society might be if we had been allowed to keep our own money and spend it on what we chose.

Please let's hear no more of it. In the above example of businesses going bust, it would be my contention that the pecking order should be reversed with those winding up a business having as their first priority to ensure prompt and if possible full payment to small and medium sized businesses. If you were to promote this, it would have the benefit of putting you on the side of the little guy and not corporate lobbyists.

The downsides include 1) A small loss of revenue to the Government in the short term, hopefully offset by increased revenue long term as fewer businesses fail. 2) It will become marginally more difficult and more expensive to obtain business loans but compared with other factors fairly negligible.

D) Gosh! £13,000,000,000 for a tanker aircraft contract! I should think the RAFs requirement for tankers in the foreseeable future is probably 10 aircraft absolute max. There are 100s if not 1000s of airliners sitting in deserts around the globe. Rip out the seats, stick in a tank and some tried and tested plumbing and bob's your uncle. How hard can it be? I suppose if you want a deluxe version, you could buy some off the shelf missile counter measures to keep the health and safety people quiet, but as these aircraft are never intended to be deployed in a war zone, I can't really see the point. And here was me thinking £1 billion was exorbitant for a hi-tech destroyer.

As a regular attender of the RAFA Shoreham Airshow and someone who was pleased to count among my friends a WWII bomber command squadron leader, I yield to noone in my sentimental attachment to the RAF. But sentimental attachment doesn't change the facts; that the assumptions which led to the formation of the RAF as a separate service have long since been proved false; that it costs a great deal of money; that it hasn't shot down an aircraft in air to air combat since WWII; and that it seems to expend most of its energy fighting turf wars with the other services. It should be split up something along these lines:

Strategic and maritime responsibility of the Navy.
Strategic and airlift responsibility of the Army.

E) Why is the NHS ringfenced? I understand it employs more administrators than nurses. This in hospitals that used to much better when run by three people! Ministers alwas say they want to protect 'front line services' but this sentiment never penetrates far into public service organisations with bureaucrats preserving their own jobs (non-jobs) at all costs while trying to squeeze even more work out of poor bloody porters, nurses and cleaners amid contradictory and perverse targets. In my experience, simply removing these people leads to an organisation which works both more effectively and happily.


Neil from the Soup Run

p.s Please feel free to post this on your own website under what the homeless want.

p.p.s I heard swifts this morning.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Across the UK, Shelter is Highly Precarious

Jamie Lindley last night appeared at the Soup Run. It was his first experience of receiving coffee and sandwiches at the Peace Statue.

Evicted after an argument and fight with an overbearing and violent landlord, his slide into homelessness was quick and sudden, demonstrating just how precarious having a roof over your head can be, in Brighton and across the United Kingdom.

"My girlfiend," he says, "is still at the flat in Hove. We've been living there for 6 months, together. She is studying to do childcare, which is very brave, I think, after all we've just been through. She recently suffered a miscarriage."

It was over a nasty comment by his landlord that an argument and fight broke out between Jamie and him.

"The landlord has a key to the house and he lives next door. He has a habit of just walking in without knocking and he came in at 5pm yesterday, very drunk. He walked over to the fridge and just took out a couple of beers and sat down. He started talking to me and my girlfriend and when he heard about the miscarriage, he arrogantly said, 'Well, at least that is one less person to pay rent.' It took me a while to work out what he had said and I couldn't believe it! I saw red and hit him. He then threw me against a wardrobe and kicked me around a bit. He was stronger than me and I've got a lot of bruises and grazes. The police were called by the neighbours and he threw me out. Now I'm on the streets and I've never been in this situation before. My girlfriend has been walking around with me a bit trying to help sort stuff out."

Jamie spent last night and the night before outside St Patrick's Nightshelter in Hove. A homeless man on the Soup Run gave him a woolen blanket to keep him warm against the cold night. The nightshelter also gave him a blanket and promised that because he could prove he had a 'local connection' in terms of how long he has lived in Brighton, he would be eligible to stay there. They were full that night and last night but promise he will hopefully gain access to the shelter tonight because they are 'moving someone on'. He isn't a big drinker and doesn't do drugs. He is touch with the local Connexions service, the Clocktower Sanctuary and St Patrick's Nightshelter and gets sandwiches from the Soup Run.

He is also getting help from the local St Vincent de Paul group (SVP). "The local soup run people told me about the SVP. I now have a job already, amazingly through Connexions, with a local firm doing sales and the SVP shop are going to help me get some smart clothes for the job. The Clocktower Sanctuary also have a fund for emergency clothing so I am really grateful to them and all the people and charities who have helped.

At 21, his story was tragic, but he remains upbeat and optimistic. He is, in a way, a success story of the care system, something which we don't hear so much.

"I was taken into care at the age of three by social services. My mother is serving life imprisonment for the murder of my father. I'm not in touch with her currently. We've been writing to each other but three months ago she tried to blame me for her crime. My experience of the care system was okay. It was hard going from care home to care home, and then into foster care. You're never sure whether they are fostering you because they care for you, or just for the money. I know others who have had big problems in the care system in terms of abuse, but I managed to escape that."

Now that Jamie is 21, his care order, under which he was cared for by social services, has expired and so going it alone in the World and having to look after himself totally is a new experience. The last few days have certainly been a brutal and violent entrance into this period of his life. His story reflects just how tenuous having a home can be, but also how effectively agencies combatting homelessness can be when all of the procedures are in place and when people fit the criteria to access help. Sadly, Jamie says, it isn't the experience of all homeless people in Brighton.

"I talked to one homeless man," Jamie said, "who is being deported back to Crewe. He doesn't want to go back and, for all we know, he could be fleeing from a violent family life or something else nasty. I don't think its fair that the Council just want to ship homeless men and women out of Brighton back to lives and cities with which they have no personal connection any longer. People should be allowed to settle here."

At 21, Jamie can get support from the Clocktower Sanctuary. As a resident in Brighton, he has a 'local connection' and can prove it. But for many rough sleepers in Brighton and Hove, not meeting such criteria can be a severe impediment to accessing much needed help and support.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

HMP Brighton Open Prison

Jason Evans is free...apparently. George, Diane and I went to pick him up from Lewes Prison on Wednesday. He looks well, having been inside for 9 months. He's been getting three square meals a day, resting, working out, learning a few skills, like cleaning and looks much stronger than he did when he went inside, albeit that he was convicted in a most underhand and corrupt manner by a system rigged against him, a system which criminalises his illness and his behaviour and which persecutes him while offering him no support whatsoever.

This is a rather clumsy photo montage, as you can see, but I wanted to produce an image of what an ASBO actually looks like, though it looks much more wicked in its true effect on an individual, and so you could read just how draconian and absurd is the law that the wretched Labour Government, that revolting 'Party for the Poor,' that the shambolic and vacuous 'People's Party' enacted in order to curb 'anti-social behaviour' and generally to persecute poor people.

I don't really care for what side of the 'political divide' readers fall upon. I shall not be voting either Tory or Labour this election. They are equally as shallow as each other. I understand the public's desire to see people 'like' Jason kept in check and the public's desire for 'law and order', but I am telling you now that this ASBO crap does not work. It just continues to criminalise those with illnesses and addictions. Neither, in Jason's case, does prison work, since the poor man is very much left to his own devices upon his release back into a society that rejects him pretty much constantly. If any good has been done for Jason while he is on the inside in terms of care, all of that work is destroyed within 2 weeks of his return to society and it is by no means all his fault.

George, Diane and I spent the morning with Jason having met him at Lewes Prison. His mentor from Sussex Pathways, a volunteer, helped him with accessing a place at a hostel and tried to assist him in accessing his benefits. He is at a hostel in Grand Parade which is full of men and women with drug and alcohol addiction. It appears to be no better than the hostel where my friends George and Diane stay. His room reportedly has nothing but a  bed with a plastic mattress. No sheets, no bedding, no radio, no kettle, no lamp, no toilet paper, no spoons, knives, forks, no pans, no pillow, no duvet, nothing. Whatever Jason receives, and he has already received a generous donation from the Brighton SVP group today, he receives from charity - not the so-called 'hostel' which is meant to be providing some kind of care and shelter to the homeless of Brighton. They, like the Percival Terrace hostel charge him £10 a week as a 'top up' for their services to him. Meanwhile, they give him...that's right! Nothing! Not even some toilet paper.

I don't know if anyone remembers that 60s/70s programme, 'The Prisoner', set in that Welsh village, but that is very much how Jason lives when he is on the outside, nevermind on the inside. The Council, not having, it seems, any adequate housing for released offenders stick Jason where he was, in the same hostels he always gets put in, with the same people, with the same addictions as him, on the same road, Grand Parade. From this life there is no escape, since his ASBO restricts him to the London Road and Grand Parade. It will expire, apparently, in 2012. What is Jason's crime? Jason's crime is the crime of begging, sometimes aggressively and street drinking. That is what gave him his ASBO. That ASBO will not be rescinded until at least 2012 and so therefore Jason will continue to live as a prisoner on the London Road.

The great irony of Jason's treatment by the authorities is that they fail to wish for, or even to hope for, or endeavour to work for, his redemption. His criminilisation means that he is unable to go to St Mary Magdalen Church because he is banned from Brighton's town centre. He is banned from that road. He is condemned to hang around on Grand Parade with all the other ghettoed homeless, poor, drug dependent and rejected of society, with the same people, who offer him the same temptations.

The first question that was asked of Jason on his return to Brighton was this: "Do you want to score?" This question was asked by a young man near the drug misuse service, otherwise known as the Crime Reduction Initiative (CRI). As soon as Jason was released from prison he was offered his temptation. He maintains that he said, 'No.' He does want to stay clean but the authorities most assuredly do not help him to overcome his addictions. They condemn him to poverty, squalor and the fraternity of all the drug addicts of Brighton in one, ghettoised street in Brighton. He cannot even go past the Pavillion and walk to look at the sea. This man is a man who has done his time for his crime, yet he is still held prisoner, condemned to live the same life he lived before he got put inside for a crime which was engendered and set up by Sussex Police!

This town is sick to the very core. Nearly everybody judges Jason and those who live like he does. Everybody condemns them. I expect that nearly all of the individuals who are in and out of prison like Jason have been abused in their childhoods in some form or another. Nobody wants to know their stories! I have talked with more than homeless person who is on the receiving end of 'care' by the local authority who wonders whether, one day, the police will simply take all the homeless and addicts of London Road, shoot them and throw them in a mass grave - such is the level of stigmatisation, woeful neglect, lack of dignity and respect with which they are treated. On top of that they are exploited by crooked hostels such as Grand Parade and Percival Terrace who strip them of their meagre benefits and give them nothing in return!

On the day of his release, we had a party at the flat for him and for another friend, whose birthday it was. We entrusted Jason with around £12. He was gone a while and we were concerned that he may have spent it on a drugs. He returned with food and cooked a Chicken Jalfrezi because he wanted to cook for us and I can tell you now, it was the best curry I've had in ages! Above is a picture of Jason 'serving up'. I doubt, very much, that it is the picture of Jason 'serving up' that those in authority would wish you to see, because the authorities, the police and the council are all waiting to see him fall, literally. I know this because a local advisor for a local housing advice service told George and Diane that she has several 'clients' who have moved here from other towns only to receive a call from the police telling them that "We know about your past, we know where you live and we are watching you".

Let it be known that if ever Brighton gets severely chastised and receives a giant tidal wave and we all perish, it was not necessarily because sodomy was rife. It's more likely that the Lord will have destroyed this city because barely anyone took a break from the party in this town to hear the anguished cries of the poor!

Jason's parting gift from Lewes Prison was a pair of jeans that didn't fit him, with no holes for a belt and with the words HM Prison labelled on the seat of the trousers. What an insult that when a man leaves that prison, he walks out of the gates and is still bearing the name of the prison upon his person like a mark, like some modern Star of David! What a cruel and disgusting irony that he is still walking in those same jeans today! Welcome to HMP Brighton, for Jason, and many more like him, this town is an open prison!

At some point we have to realise that those who have been commended by Christ to His Church, the Poor, those who we are duty bound to harbour and to care for, will not be given dignity, care or respect by the secular authorities. It is not a great leap of the imagination therefore to wonder whether, in fact, given that every State agency fails men and women like Jason time and time again, whether we, in fact, are the ones called to take in and care for these individuals ourselves because, as far as I can see, nobody else will. Whatever Brighton and Hove City Council tell you about Brighton, don't believe it. It isn't a place of abundant love, peace, diversity or in any way easy-going. For a great many people, Brighton is a living nightmare. Nice Pavillion, sure, but across the road from that Pavillion is a ghetto of men and women who this society have failed abysmally, abjectly and with almost insatiable cruelty. The hostel don't allow visitors, by the way, nor do they answer the door. At least in prison, Jason had visitors...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Caroline Lucas MEP "Shocked" by Council's Answer to 'Temporary Accommodation'

Caroline Lucas, prospective Green candidate for Brighton Pavillion and European MEP and Councillor Ian Davey visited two homeless residents, George and Diane, at a 'temporary  hostel' on Saturday. They both expressed "shock" and "outrage" at the living conditions of the Helgar Trading Ltd owned hostel, a company in receipt of hundreds of thousands pounds of taxpayers money every year. 

Caroline was shown by George and Diane the squalid living conditions of tenants in the hostel on the seafront. 

The two residents have been living in the 'temporary' accommodation since their eviction at the hands of Moat Housing Association over a year ago, the Council having failed to rehouse them ever since.

The hostel charges residents a 'top up' fee of £12 from the tenants every week, yet gives an absolute minimum to tenants in terms of living conditions, with stale smelling rooms and corridors, pigeons constantly defacating outside the basement room window, water dripping from the ceiling, a freezing cold kitchen in the winter, with very damp walls, plaster which is falling off, a shower into which neither George or Diane can fit so they are unable to wash, a shower which gurgles mysteriously with a foul smell of sewage. In the room there is not enough space in a room for a sofa, so the wearied and tenants, one of whom has mental health problems, have developed back prolems from watching the television, with only one channel, from bed.

George and Diane are not in a partnership but a carer-caree friendship, yet have been housed together in just one room since their eviction.

The living conditions caused Caroline Lucas to express her horror at both the living conditions of the residents and the fact that the owners of the disgusting hostel make thousands off the back of society's most vulnerable.

"The living conditions I have seen here are scandalous," said the Green MEP. "The most shocking aspect of what I have seen here is that the owners of this hostel give absolutely nothing to the residents yet must be making hundreds of thousands of pounds, all at the taxpayers expense."

Caroline also expressed her shock at the fact that Moat Housing Association and Brighton and Hove City Council's Social Services Team had reassured George and Diane that they would put their belongings from their old property into storage for them, only for the removal company to destroy all of their possessions, even personal belongings of emotional value, such as pictures of Diane's daughter and letters.

Having seen the squalor in which George and Diane are forced to live everyday, she committed herself to doing all she could to assist them in moving out of the property and into better accommodation and resolved to ensure that Brighton's authorities are made fully aware of the scandalous attitude of Helgar Trading Ltd towards Brighton's homeless, the conditions of their hostel and the injustice that the proprietor is making thousands of pounds off the plight of those without choice in Brighton, those without access to permanent accommodation.

Friday, 19 March 2010

A Romanian Homeless Man Who Cannot Access Benefits

On Wednesday, I met a man named Bogdan on the Soup Run. He is a Romanian. He became homeless after having lived here and worked here in the UK as a temporary worker.

He was unable to claim benefits and was unable to pay his rent. His landlord kicked him out of the flat. He is a young man.

His parents and family back in Romania do not know he is homeless although he does call them from time to time to let them know he is okay. He feels ashamed of his homelessness but wants to ride it out until the Summer. He sleeps near the seafront in Brighton and hopes that the Council may help him to find somewhere to live soon. It will be difficult for him since he has no 'local connection' but hope springs eternal that he will find somewhere to live which is warm. The Soup Run literally feeds this young man and sustains him in his everyday battle against the elements sleeping rough in Brighton.

His story illustrates how easy it is to fall through the 'safety net' in the UK and to become homeless and destitute in a matter of days. If you are interested in feeding the homeless of Brighton and Hove contact Laurence at

Friday, 5 March 2010

Meeting the Poorest with Caroline Lucas MEP

The greatest tragedy that has befallen democracy is politics. The primary aim of political parties is to be elected. The secondary aim of political parties is to make a difference to the people whom they represent. Every town, every city, every ward within every town and city has an elected MP. Yet, there are so many people who feel distant or even excluded from the political process. At some point, perhaps it took place a long time ago, a chasm emerged between elected representatives and the people they represent, their constituency. The sense of despair at the political process was, this year, heightened by the MPs expenses scandal.

However, the most excluded people of all from the political process are those whose votes are seldom sought, those who perhaps wouldn't even think of voting, those who feel they do not even have a voice. One of these groups, without a doubt, is the very poor, excluded and marginalised from society. One of these groups is the homeless and in Brighton the Soup Run serves many of them.

The Conservative Party talk of a 'broken society' and, of course, we do live in a broken society. Indeed, we live in a broken World. We live in a World in which families break up. We live in a World in which individuals break up. We live in a World in which whole communities break up. We live in a World in which real compassion is scarce. We live in a World in which people actually have to shout, or even scream in order to be given respect and dignity. Yet, if people are treated with a lack of respect or dignity for long enough, or their opinions or voices go unsought, they are very soon rendered silent. Who will stand up for them? Who will listen to them? Who will assure them that they are valued by society, not because they are vote winners, not because they help win elections, but because they are human beings with inalienable, inviolable rights.

The homeless, I am sure, do not want special treatment, but merely to be recognised as valued human beings in a truly inclusive society in which every human being is entitled to and given, respect. They seldom receive it, of course, but it is the very poorest in society who have the most to tell society and those who represent communities either in Parliament or in Brussels, about what kind of society we live in.

If a truly just society is to be built, it must be built from the bottom up. That is how we build a house and that is how we should build a just society on firm foundations. If those who are at the bottom of society, the poorest, the homeless, the very vulnerable are not heard then those at the top of society, the politicians, who are called to serve the people, rather than master them, will be unable to enact just laws or represent a whole community.

Caroline Lucas, Green, MEP and Green candidate for Brighton Pavillion tonight met with the homeless served by St Mary Magdalen Soup Run. For that willingness to meet the homeless at the Peace Statue, she should be commended for being willing to listen and learn from the poorest in society. The homeless are not necessarily 'vote winners' since they are so often condemned by their poverty, blamed by society, ignored by society, or even persecuted by society. Caroline Lucas MEP, should be commended for listening and learning about all the issues which the homeless face, day in, day out, week in, week out, about how the Council treat them, about how the 'local connection' policy impedes their ability to be housed, about how they are treated by Government agencies who do not recognise their dignity as human beings. If human rights are to be truly respected for all of society, if Brighton is to be a truly 'inclusive' society then Brighton must include the very poor and the homeless. These rights which are inviolable must be respected for the poorest in society.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

I have a friend in Lewes Prison. It has been ages since I've seen him. By some Miracle I managed to get through to the Prison having tried quite a few times to get through by phone. As it turns out, as I discovered today, I could have just emailed them and they'd have sent me an appointment. We live, we learn. He is known to the parish of St Mary Magdalen because the prison chaplaincy team, ran by the SVP, go along to the Mass there on Saturdays and before he received his ASBO banning him from the town centre of Brighton and the majority of the seafront until 2012 for the terrible crime of irritating the good people of Brighton by begging and street drinking, he would ask for alms from parishioners of said parish Church after Mass. I was involved a week or two in the chaplaincy team but fell out of it because my life became hectic for numerous reasons.

I tried to get a picture closer up to the Prison but was told by a couple of guards outside that you can't take pictures of the Prison. I asked "Why?" and they said, "You just can't." You can't do something and there's no reason? Well, you just got to accept it! That's modern Britain for you! Clearly, I was planning my friend's elaborate escape...through, er, the front door.

Anyway, so I'm in the 'holding room' having had my frisking and everyone looks bored and naffed off. There is nothing to read but signs on the four walls about what you shouldn't bring in to the prison like knives, drugs, guns, cameras, tobacco and mobile phones. All in all, its a bit like being at an airport. A baby is on the lap of his father bobbing up and down and a guard walks in and sees the baby is playing with an unopened bag of crisps. He says to the father of the baby, "I'm sorry I'm going to have to take those crisps away. Nothing should be brought upstairs to the visiting room." Everyone else in the waiting room is looking at each other thinking, "He's joking, right?" But no, he wasn't. What better way to get drugs into prisoners but through a packet of totally unopened Wotsits, played with by a stubborn baby who refuses to relinquish them to the guard!?

We wait. The guard calling us up is about 15 minutes late. I strike up a conversation with the man next to me. He says, "They do this on purpose. They make you wait longer than you should to put you off from visiting. They're making it harder deliberately. You used to be able to come anyday, but now you can't come Mondays and Wednesdays. I remember once, before new rule came in I was here on a Bank Holiday and all the guards were moaning about how crap it is that they have to man the visits on a Bank Holiday. I mean, its not as if they're doing the job for free is it? They're getting paid for this job."

He, I and a room full of others walk up the stairs, passing the baby's savoury potato-snack snatcher and I show him my locker key, for the locker which I'd put all my drugs, guns and ammunition in before I'd entered the visiting area, having put my massive heroin stash in the 'drugs amnesty bin' situated in front of a CCTV camera. The key is small and the key fob is transparent, hard, plastic and huge. The place begins to feel quite comic. The guy says to me, "You see that key fob? All you'd have to do is snap it in half and you'd have a weapon."

So, eventually, I make it upstairs and my friend is sitting there. He looks well, he's put on weight and he shows me his new dentures. He's off drugs, has to take methadone but seems bright as a button. He doesn't have any tobacco and his trainers are getting old and worn, but he has a glow and happiness I haven't seen in him for a long while.

We talk, we eat Jelly Babies and chocolate, drink coffee with sugar (more lenten failure for me) and talk more. I don't want this to be an absurdly long post but I want to do the post 'justice', if you'll pardon the pun. So, we're talking. It turns out that my friend was put inside this time for a previous offense which, finally, 'court' up with him. Over a year ago, he had been on the London Road and a woman came up to him, shaking, with all the symptoms of heroin withdrawl that addicts understand is very painful. When you come off heroin you can convulse, vomit, go into sweats and turn white as a sheet. Every addict knows this. So, the woman comes up to him and begs him for a bit of heroin. My friend gives her, doesn't sell her, but gives her, a 'ten bag' because, foolhardy as it may seem to non-users, addicts understand that need for a fix. When you are in that state, they maintain, it is the only thing that gets you well again.

It turns out that the handing over of the tiny bag was filmed by undercover police and that the woman who came to him with the symptoms of withdrawal was undercover police. It was a set up to make my friend appear to be a drug dealer, when anyone who knows him will tell you he is a drug, or was, a drug user. Now, you can call this little 'operation' what you like but objectively speaking, it is what is commonly termed, 'entrapment'. It is a corrupt way for the police to pin a crime on someone and is in America, apparently, illegal.

Not so here it would seem. My friend had thought he was doing an addict a favour since that 'addict' was 'clucking', but in fact, the police had set him up. Why? Because, frankly, he is a bit of a nuisance and the Council don't know how to deal with the 'anti-social behaviour' which goes along with drug addiction among some of the homeless community of Brighton and Hove. So, the business/trading community, the police, the council, housing associations and anyone else who is worried about Brighton's 'reputation', which as you can see below from Gay Pride Day is impeccable, ganged up together to ensnare homeless addicts who are seen as unsightly and banged them up in HMP Lewes.

Along with my friend, there was, apparently, between 20 and 30 other prisoners who were there on the exact same charge. All of them were addicts, not pushers and nearly all homeless/hostel dwellers of Brighton. I remember trying to tell The Argus this by email, but strangely their Crime Correspondent, Ben Parsons, never got back to me. He couldn't see a story there. Funny that! I mean, The Argus team would never compromise their journalistic integrity on behalf of Sussex Police, the trading community and Brighton & Hove City Council, would they?

Anyway, the upshot is that my friend, naively, along with many others got stitched up by the Police and as a result got put inside for 18 months, 9 or now 10 on good behaviour. He was meant to be out mid-March but the prison guard found a mobile phone in his cell, which my friend says he doesn't know how it got there, and for this they added another month to his sentence. Nice guys, eh?! I've talked to a couple of guys on the soup run and they reported it had happened to them too. What is more, they all maintain that the actual dealers, the big guys are still out there and get left more or less untouched by the Police. Aren't our police force a funny old bunch? They get the addicts, sling them in jail for their addiction and leave the big dealers alone. Nevermind, Ben Parsons, Crime Correspondent of The Argus, I guess we all miss a story every now and then.

So, thats how things stand at the moment for my friend. He longs to get out, but he has been somewhat institutionalised. Always has been, since he was little and in and out of children's homes, foster homes, prisons and the rest. He finds it very difficult to cope on the outside. On the inside he is fine, gets meals and all that, but on the outside he falls into the same old habits. He says he wants to do cleaning, gardening, car boot sales (seems to know a bit about antiques), busking and stay out of trouble. He also wants to become a Catholic, which obviously is great news for him and the Church, since it means that the Prison Chaplaincy Team, many of whom are inspired by St Mary Magdalen's Church and the ministry of its Priest are indeed a Work of God.

Towards the end of the visit he pointed behind himself and said, "See that Chinese guy over there? He's in here for selling pirate DVDs." I say to him, "For selling pirate DVDs?! How long did he get?" My friend says, "Two years." He turns to a guard and grins and asks if she wants a Jelly Baby. She says, "No". He asks if he can give a Jelly Baby to an inmate friend 5 yards away at another table. She and another guard say, "No." He sees my Rosary around my neck. He says he would like it. I ask the guard. He says, "No," presumably because the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the World's most powerful weapon.

I went back to my car to find a parking ticket. Somehow, readers, I am now wanted financially dead or alive by two different local authorities. Lewes District Council and Brighton and Hove City Council. I don't know. Why do they end up always picking on the poorer, weaker ones?

Monday, 22 February 2010

How Britain Treats Its Brave Boys

Britain's Brave Boys

Army veterans line up on parade on Brighton's seafront in mid-winter. Is not our veterans' service to this country worthy of better treatment than this? Story courtesy of
Henry Law of
'An Outside View'.

'These homeless men sleeping out under the promenade at Brighton are all ex-soldiers of various ages. They have served in places like Northern Ireland, the Falklands, and the Gulf. Once they left the army they found it impossible to settle into civilian life and ended up homeless. They have a drink problem but clean up as best they can afterwards. They are probably "institutionalised".

A significant proportion of homeless men are ex-servicemen. The official attitude seems to be that they are no longer of use and can be discarded. I think the problem is that the sort of accommodation that would be right for them simply does not exist. I get the impression that they would not get on well in, for instance, a bed-sit flat, which is what they would probably get offered, after which they would be forgotten about as a solved case. These men need a structured environment, where ex-servicemen can live in a protected community, under firm direction

What might be done? In the seventeenth century, Chelsea Hospital was founded for just this purpose. Isn't there a need for similar institutions today? I have in mind large houses with 15 to 20 rooms and communal facilities such as a dining room, lounge, games and hobbies rooms, and a gymnasium run by a well-organised retired sergeant type who was kind, sympathetic but firm.

Residents in the kind of establishment I envisage would be expected if possible to help in the running of the establishment by taking turns with household tasks like cooking and cleaning, painting, decorating and household tasks. To judge from the way they conduct themselves, most of them would be well able to do such things as a product of their army training.

In such an environment, some of them at least might be able to give up their alcohol habits and possibly hold down regular work and become valuable members of their local communities.

This is really something that the government should take on as part of a duty of care to those who choose to risk their lives to defend the country, but if it will not, there is a need for a new charitable foundation. It would undoubtedly qualify for Royal patronage and enjoy huge public support.

Come on, you tabloids, speak up for our brave boys after their military usefulness is past.'

Perhaps Prince Harry, who enjoyed his service in Afghanistan would be interested in hearing about how our veterans are treated with such contempt after their service in Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

Perhaps Prince William, who has recently been raising the profile of homeless charity Crisis, would be interested in hearing about the disgusting way in which our servicemen are discarded by Government and society after putting their lives on the line for Queen and country.

Rest assured, these men, who sleep under the subway of Brighton beach will have their story told as soon as possible. It is a national scandal that men who have risked life and limb for the people this country should then be tossed aside like rubbish into the gutter. It says everything you want to know about our 'throw-away' society and, indeed, our throw-away Government. It is highly likely that these men have tried to get accommodation from the Council, but don't have a 'local connection'. Who would have thought that their service in the armed forces would have prepared these brave soldiers, for this? More on this story surely to come...

Pope Visits Homeless Shelter

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Councilspeak is all very nice, but they do not speak for us!

The Council are reportedly concerned that the Soup Run is 'part of the problem of homelessness, rather than the solution'. I wonder what the Council's 'solution' is.

I served at the Traditional Latin Mass tonight and went after to an 'extraodinary' meeting of another 'form'. The volunteers on the soup run at the Peace Statue met together for what I had assumed was a general chat about feeding the hungry. It was nothing of the sort. The meeting might just have been called, 'Guidelines on how to kowtow to the Council.'

A volunteer for a soup run at the other end of town gave us a talk. He dictated the entire discussion from beginning to end. He began the meeting by suggesting that 'complaints' had been made to the Council. When challenged over what the content of these complaints were, he then asserted that no formal complaint had been made. 'There is a general perception,' he said, 'that the soup run is a part of the problem of homelessness in Brighton, rather than the solution.'

I could not believe my ears. For a start, that a Council which does next to nothing for the homeless of Brighton and Hove have the utter, shameless audacity to dictate to the soup run volunteers on matters of 'health and safety', guidelines or even hygiene is a grotesque insult to both the homeless and the volunteers of the soup run. Secondly, soup run volunteers are not children who need to be told to wash their hands before making a sandwich and ensure their hands are clean when they give sandwiches out. We learned that when we were children! Unfortunately, the whole tone of this volunteer's talk was totally patronising, which, even if his heart was in the right place in terms of warning us to beware of the Council, did him few favours.

He is the 'eyes and ears' of the soup run on a Council committee forum on the 'homelessness prevention team' or something. What I, and other volunteers became disturbed by was his councilspeak on homelessness. He described the poor and hungry who are fed by the soup run as 'clients' and 'customers'. A man next to me who has fed the homeless for 30 years and I looked at each other in disbelief, muttering 'Clients!?' and 'Customers!? WTF!?'

Because of his language, dominated, as it was, by health and safety executive doublespeak, few in the room were left wondering whether he was speaking on behalf of the soup run or on behalf of the Council. It was highly disconcerting. Is this what happens when someone joins a Council committee? In one breath he was reassuring us of his loyalty to the soup run and of his commitment to the homeless and in the other he was speaking as if he were working for housing benefits. Everybody gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was working primarily as a voice for the soup run on a council committee on homelessness prevention but nobody left the room thinking that his perception of both the soup run and the homeless had not been infected with the Council's ethos a little regarding the homeless. I left wondering if the Council had been infiltrated by a volunteer of the soup run or whether the soup run had been infiltrated by the Council. We were all reassured by him that he was on our side and there is, as yet, no reason to doubt his word.

We were thus encouraged, out of this man's charity, that in order to appease the Council's distrust of the soup run and of the very poor and destitute, that we must ensure that we are highly trained in what amounts to basic common courtesy in the making and distributing of sandwiches, because, basically, the soup run is not very popular with the Council (because it makes them look bad and reveals the extent of Brighton's homelessness while they claim there are only 7 homeless people) and all the Council need is one excuse to close us down. This is probably very true.

For this reason alone, many, myself included supported this volunteer's advice, even if most of it was common sense and some of it totally and utterly misguided and unrealistic.

Let it be known. The day that the Council close the soup run in Brighton because it is bad for Brighton's tourist image is the day in which the good people of Brighton (and there are quite a few of them) make a public outcry so big that national TV cameras are in Bartholomew Square. How dare this Council even, for one minute, try and dictate to soup run volunteers, through one of the volunteers on their committee, how to do the soup run or try to frighten us of its future?! It is well known that apart from telling the homeless that they belong in another town because they have no local connection, the Council do absolutely NOTHING for the homeless of Brighton and Hove. The Catholic Church is there feeding the hungry every night of the week, 52 weeks a year, while the Council workers wash their hands of the homeless every single day. What is more, they get paid for doing pretty much diddly squat. At least we do something concrete and guess what, we don't get any money. If anything we end up out of pocket every now and then!

Well, obviously, the volunteers will continue to use their common sense and distribute food to the hungry in a hygenic and sensible manner as we always have done. Heck! We might even use a notepad, as we were tonight urged, to count how many homeless we feed when we arrive and do a quick head count for whatever strange purpose is needed in that respect. We will not, however, most definitely not, take lessons on how to treat the homeless from a Council committee who do not give a flying one about the fate or sufferings of the very people for whom the Council is their first point of reference and from whom these very same people receive jack sh*t in terms of respect, compassion, housing or even food.

The day the Council fund the St Mary Magdalen Soup Run, is the day the soup run runs according to the Council's pleasure. The day the Council sends volunteers to the soup run is the day the soup run runs according to the Council's pleasure. The day the Council calls the Church and tells them they have decided to stand in the pissing rain and cold in winter and feed the homeless of Brighton, is the day in which the Church's mission to the poor is made redundant. That day will never come, of course, and so I will continue, as do so many volunteers who left feeling insulted tonight, to feed the homeless come rain or f***in' shine.

And if the Council, one day, want to send the cops in to arrest the volunteers for feeding the hungry and dispossessed of Brighton because its bad for Brighton's image, then let them do that. I'd happily go to jail for that. Words cannot describe the ignorance of these Council busy bodies. Words cannot describe the corruption and wickedness of the Council. It is high time that those who are charged with the duty to care for and house those sleeping on the beach in Brighton are brought face to face with those who they neglect, with those they ignore, with those who they persecute, with those who they despise for no reason other than out of mere prejudice, suspicion, ignorance and fear! Health and safety!? Like the Council give a flying one about the 'health and safety' of the homeless of Brighton. Most of them wake up with their faces on the floor surrounded by piss every morning. Dear Brighton and Hove City Council. If you're really concerned about the 'health and safety' of the homeless of Brighton then house them and feed them!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

BBC News Report on Los Angeles New Homeless

Homelessness in America is becoming increasingly educated, middle class and often with a family according to a United Nations report.

It suggests the financial crisis has forced thousands onto the streets or into shelters.

Zoe Conway reports from Los Angeles. Click here for the BBC report.

A Tale of Two Cities

It is official. This Council stinks to high Heaven and not just because they didn't give me a job as a relief administrator. George, Diane and I paid a visit to the Housing department of Brighton and Hove City Council. What followed would be laughable if it were not so poisonous. The sign above and the one below will tell you all you need to know about the priorities of this Council. One is situated on the outside and the other is placed in an interview cubicle on the inside. It is 'equality' for some and injustice and punishment for others. It is a tale of two cities. It is truly Dickensian.

George, Diane and I met a lady from Housing and City Support. She listened to George and Diane's story, about how they were evicted, spent a night sleeping rough before being placed in emergency 'temporary accommodation', where they have been, in the same room since then, clarifying to her that they are not partners and asking her for assistance in being re-housed. She listened but hesitated in giving a proper answer to any of George and Diane's questions, saying regularly, "That's not my department, that's the _______ department".

While waiting to see her we met this man, called Neil who has been sleeping rough for a while. George knew him from his days in Bournemouth. I asked if I could take his picture because I am trying to raise awareness of homelessness and poverty in Brighton and he agreed. As you can see from the posters above, we are living in a society here in which men like Neil are arrested for sleeping rough, while the agenda of the LGBT community is lauded as a triumph of equality and human progress. It is the rank hypocrisy of the secular agenda which is at the root of this scandal. Men and women who base their existence on their genitals are raised for special treatment, while the poor, the outcast and rejected of society face a 'stonewall' wherever they go.

Neil, a homeless man seeks assistance from Brighton and Hove City Council's Housing division

I asked Neil whether trying to access housing in Brighton is like banging your head against a brick wall. He said that it was, but I did not imagine that George and Diane were about to hit one as well. Having been allowed into the interview cubicle to advocate for George and Diane at one point I admitted that I was an independent journalist. Bad mistake. I deeply regret it. I had secretly hoped that if I said this that the Council might take George and Diane's cause more seriously since it might encourage them to go out of their way to help George and Diane. I was sorrowfully mistaken.

Once I mentioned that, the 'advisor', named Dominique, said that she 'had to go upstairs' and have a word with one or two people about the case. She said she would be back in 5 minutes. 15 minutes later she still had not returned. George was then summoned to the reception where he was told he was to answer a telephone call from 'upstairs'. George was informed that if he wishes to make a complaint against the Council that he should fill out a complaints form and the conversation then finished. He and Diane were perfectly civil and were not there to lodge a formal complaint. They wanted a resolution to their temporary housing fiasco which has seen their benefits slashed because both are treated as 'partners' even though this is simply not the case.

Inititally, I was outraged by the Council's cowardice. I was infuriated that the presence of someone who is supporting George and Diane and had been covering their plight had made those responsible in the Council back off and close down the discussion in a manner which was shocking in its lack of respect for them and its discourtesy. Inititally, I was appalled by the Council's total lack of shame and thought that given that I was writing about George and Diane's struggle to be heard by the Council that they would naturally want to make an effort to at least appear to be doing something. Yet they did the total opposite.

George outside the Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) Centre, Brighton. George and Diane waited for 40 minutes to be seen by an advisor having booked an appointment.

The Council must know that they are in the wrong. The Council workers must know that they are on the side of injustice, not justice. The Council workers must know that they have an attitude towards the poorest of society which is shameful and scandalous. They must realise that they are incompetent at dealing with the most vulnerable in society. Yet, when faced with someone who was trying to cover the story of those who are its victims, they ran away.

All of these things I thought and yet it is futile. In my haste to try and help Diane and George the Council did what only comes natural to them. It doesn't matter that they are cowards. It doesn't matter that their response was shameful. It doesn't matter that even though Diane was suffering in even walking to Bartholomew House from the car park, that they did not lift a finger to help her or her carer when they arrived. It doesn't matter that they have no idea what these people have been through. All that matters is that the end result was the same or perhaps worse. My intervention did not help matters, but may have made them worse. All that matters is that my assistance led to the Council closing the discussion down. We later went on to Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) who were much more helpful, but progress that could have been made today was not and I know that I am culpable in this.

It is most likely that they would have fobbed George and Diane off anyway. It is the kind of treatment to which they are perfectly accustomed. They are sent from government agency to government agency. They are sent from housing to income support, to BHT, to housing benefits to 'housing options', and back around them all again, at considerable cost to both, in terms of money, bus fares, physical and emotional energy. It saps them. The sense of futility gets both of them depressed. Nothing ever changes, no matter who they see or what they do and so why bother?

It doesn't matter what George and Diane say or do, the Council do not lift a finger to help them and absolutely nobody in the organisation is accountable. Nobody! Perhaps they'd help them if they had sex changes! This is what it is like to be poor in Brighton and Hove. You are given no respect! Nobody really listens to you! Any sense of power is taken from you and you become disempowered in society and dispossessed! Pushed and shunted from agency to agency, you begin to feel like you don't matter. You begin to feel like your voice is not worth having or using. You begin to say what the homeless say of Brighton and Hove, "The Council say we don't exist!"

It is that sense of exclusion from society which the poorest suffer every day. Inside the Housing department is a sign saying that anyone who abuses the staff or swears at staff will be banned. After walking around with George and Diane today and seeing at first hand the prejudice and woeful treatment they experience day in and day out when they seek government assistance or help in a perfectly legitimate manner, it is a wonder that half of Brighton is not banned from their receptions. It is their outrageous hypocrisy and downright ignorance, their prejudice and woeful neglect of those living in poverty which eventually leads men and women to blow their tops and let rip. Today I learned that the Council don't like it up 'em. But that is of no consolation to George and Diane whatsoever. If you would be so kind, pray for them. People who work for the Council get paid quite well for doing very little. I know this because I worked there. I wasn't always a great worker myself when I temped there. George and Diane however, have to work hard just to be seen and receive assistance. Then when they are seen they receive no help and no respect.

I will continue to look for work, of course, but I am happy to work for free, since even if I don't earn a penny out of raising awareness of the utter corruption and incompetency of our Council in dealing with some of society's poorest and most vulnerable people, I know where my treasure is. The truth about our local governments, as well as our central government, must be told.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

"The Council Say That We Don't Exist"

From left to right: Russell, Neil and Michael are all street homeless. They have all been refused housing or accommodation by Brighton and Hove City Council since they do not have a 'local connection'. A 'local connection' means that homeless people must have family in Brighton in order to be considered for social housing. Even though temperatures have dropped to below freezing this winter, these men were refused Council help. When temperatures drop to -1 degrees celcius the First Base Day Centre in Montpelier Place opens its doors for the night.

Michael, reflecting on what help is available to the homeless said, "Sleeping in 0 degrees or even 1 or 2 degrees celcius is pretty terrible as well, you know. All we have is a sleeping bag. The council do nothing for us. The Soup Run does more for us than anyone else. It is a Godsend, literally. We'd be lost without it."

Neil continued to speak on behalf of himself and his friends. "At Christmas, the Soup Run was still there, with hot food because of the time of year and we were even given an envelope with £10 each in it as a Christmas present."

Every night at 7 pm, 52 weeks a year, the homeless of Brighton and Hove are fed with sandwiches and given coffee and soup near the peace statue by the seafront. This is done by volunteers from St Mary Magdalen Church and volunteers from outside the Church who wish to join in and help to feed the hungry of Brighton. Tonight it is 7 degrees outside, but it will rain.

Russell went further; "The Council say that we don't exist, if we have no local connection. Much of the YMCA is empty, meanwhile. I walk around Brighton and there are so many empty buildings which could be used as a hostel for us."

Neil continued, "The council claim that there are seven street homeless people in Brighton. This simply is not true. Last night there were ten or eleven of us where I was sleeping and that is just me." Another street homeless man, Jez, said, "I was with two others." Michael said, "There were seven of us last night where we were." Russell said with frustration, "We are just a blot on the landscape!" Jez, as he turns to leave after the Soup Run shouts to me, "I was born and bred in this area and I can't get anywhere to live!"

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Don McCullin's 1989 Newsnight Film on London's Homeless

Newsnight celebrates its 30th anniversary today. In honour of their journalistic endeavours, they have posted some good and memorable reports from their archives on their website. Click here for Don McCullin's 1989 film about London's homeless. It is as relevant today as it was then. Human dignity is not something to be decided by the State or any man. Human dignity has been raised by Christ who redeemed us, by taking upon Himself our humanity. He has raised our dignity to heights of which we cannot fathom and no man, no Government, no culture and no law can take that dignity away from us.