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.