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.