Thursday, 29 September 2011

Welcome to the World of Mears Group Plc

The company with a stranglehold over Council housing

The Eye of a Needle

Recently, I visited a friend of George and Diane in her Council flat in Brighton.  A young lady who suffers depression, having had 5 children taken from her in her life by social services, we talked with her and I asked if she would allow me to take some footage of her property.

She wasn't offended when I said that I wasn't very impressed by the Council if this was what they were offering as accommodation to Brightonians.

Thankfully, she is being moved soon to a new Council property, though she admitted she has not seen the place to which she will be moved.  As you can tell from the video below, the walls of the house are in a shocking state of disrepair and are in need of plastering and decorating.  Like a couple of Council houses I have seen, the Council and/or the Mears Group who are responsible for the upkeep of its property, don't provide carpet to its residents.

Bob Holt, CEO of Mears Group
According to this article, the Mears Group seem to be doing rather well financially.  Its CEO, Bob Holt, boasts of the company with responsibility for the maintenance of social housing in Brighton having been 'debt free' for over 13 years. It is a company which, according to Growth Business UK, has brought the 'Mears Group from sales of £12 million when it listed on AIM in 1996 to £305 million today'.

Great. Well, I'm all for people being successful, but if this company are really doing that well then why do they seem unable to maintain this Council property in Brighton to a barely minimal standard. This company must need no reminding that they are on the receiving end of a staggering average of £2,020,105 a year from Brighton and Hove City Council for their services (Source: Openly Local), which, looking at the video below of a friend's Council house, seems to be rather an excessive pecuniary reward, for a not very good job. Certainly, the resident living there was rather down about where she lived.



Over winter she had to live on friend's sofas in order to keep warm because, as you can see from the video, the grill over the door that came off after a daughter tried to break in, having lost her key or left it at home, never was put back on the hinges. The wood was so rotten that the door came right off and couldn't be put back on. So the Mears team just grilled up the back door, but not particularly well, since it allows air and light through. So in winter, the resident was freezing cold when it hit minus 6 degrees. She asked the Mears team to sort it out, of course, but it never was. To be honest, looking around at the place, it kind of felt like the whole house could fall down at any moment. I hope a lot of people read this, I really do and I hope the 'House of Mears' that seems to have an iron grip over the housing of the poor in Brighton falls down like the house of cards that it is. They have a reputation in Brighton, does the Mears clan. They are, by and large, crooks and thugs and they are all over the Council.

Not, that said, that it is only Brighton and Hove City Council that are in a cosy relationship with the Mears operations. Openly Local, the website that provides information on Council's spending and Council's suppliers makes it quite clear that the Mears Group provides exactly the same services for:

  • Birmingham City Council (Total spend: £1,502,739, Average monthly spend: £1,502,739)
  • London Borough of Bromley (Total spend: £169,749, Average monthly spend: £169,749)
  • Blackpool Council (Total spend: £674,791, Average monthly spend: £337,395)
  • Newcastle upon Tyne City Council (Total spend: £2,623,661, Average monthly spend: £437,276)
  • London Borough of Lambeth (Total spend: £471,040, Average monthly spend: £471,040)
  • Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (Total spend: £2,551,119, Average monthly spend: £283,457)
  • Cornwall Council (Total spend: £1,874,663, Average monthly spend: £468,665)
  • Leeds City Council (Total spend: £396,751, Average monthly spend: £396,751)
  • Peterborough City Council (Total spend: £53,291, Average monthly spend: £53,291)
  • London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (Total spend: £15,606, Average monthly spend: £15,606)
  • North East Lincolnshire Council (Total spend: £85,777, Average monthly spend: £28,592)
  • Dover District Council (Total spend: £338,107, Average monthly spend: £112,702)

It looks like Brighton and Hove City Council are the most generous in their spending on these boys. Ironically, after I'd visited this property, I went to get my hair cut at a barbers on the edge of town and the guy next door to me, also getting his hair cut, was a Mears worker. They wear t-shirts with the Mears logo on one side of the breast and the Brighton and Hove City Council logo on the other. In fact, Brighton and Hove City Council repairs team also have the Mears logo on them.

I guess you could say this is a mutually beneficial relationship. It is also Councillor Mary Mears of Mears and Sons who arranged for the destruction of the Open Market, for it to be renovated and for flats to built there on the site. I think most people accept that Councils are a little dodgy and that how they award contracts is probably on the dodgy side. I think what most people would find a little shocking is just what little effort some of those contractors put into the properties over which they have responsibility and the appalling living conditions of those who have to live there, those who have no choice where they live. I don't know. Maybe they maintain the Council's housing stock well and this is something of an abberation. Or maybe, it is a case of the resident being 'not worthy' of having her house repaired. I hope they get the place fixed up before the next poor soul has to live there, but I wouldn't bet on it...

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Eye of Needle



The Eye of a Needle

You’re down and out in Brighton
So now what you gonna do?
Though there’s ‘To Let’ signs everywhere
This city’s got no room for you
You’ve got some cash
But the agents they want more, more, more
You need a flat
But brother you are poor, poor, poor

So you go and see the Council
Maybe they’ve a room for you?
You drag your belongings
Down Crack Central avenue
You were full of hope but now that you’ve arrived-rived-rived
You see the room and you break down and you cry, cry, cry

There’s a soldier up above who’s been beating on his wife
He left Iraq but now he can’t cope with civilian life
And there’s a sad man rapping at your door, door, door
Asking, “Here, do you know where I can score, score, score?”

Then you lay on your mattress,
Out the corner of your eye
You spy a used needle that an addict’s left behind
You’ve never stayed anywhere like this before-fore-fore!
There’s a dry patch of blood upon the floor, floor, floor, floor, floor!

Oh this is Brighton
Brighton
Welcome to Brighton
17/19 Grand Parade
Brighton

There’s a sad man rapping at your door
His arms are cut to shreds and now he’s asking for your support

You get a letter from the Council
Telling you the room’s price
You ask, “How can it cost that for this squalid little dive?”
Then another letter comes up to your door, door, door
You’ve got to pay 'top-up' or you’ll be out in the morning

You ask who runs this joint
You find out that its Baron Homes
They’re making money out of you
It chills you to the bone
The owners making loads of cash, cash, cash
You see another tenant in a body bag, bag, bag

You’re down and out in Brighton
So now what you gonna do?
When the eye of a needle is just what you’re passing through
You tell the Council but they don’t really mind, mind, mind
Do they care if you should live or die?

You wait for 7 hours at the Council
Maybe there’s another room
“There must be more to Brighton than Crack Central”, Oh , but you?
You’re not welcome in this town because you’re poor,
"Here’s a ticket to the town where you come from,"
The rich they are welcome here, that’s all
But not you, no, you're not really their sort,
Then a stranger walks straight through your door, door, door
He’s got the keys he’s the tenant from before-fore-fore!
There’s a bad man rapping at your door, door door!
Asking, “Here brother, do you want to score, score, score?”
The Council ask, “Have you ever considered Eastbourne?”

This is Brighton
Brighton
Brighton
Welcome to Brighton
Brighton
17/19
Grand Parade
Brighton

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Olympic Homeless Coming to Brighton

Is there anything more absurd than the Olympics?
The Argus carried an interesting story yesterday concerning Brighton's increasing homeless community being caused by the grotesquely expensive efforts being put into putting on an exhibition of fast runners, high jumpers and good swimmers. The new homeless have been described by the local press as the 'Olympic homeless'...

'Homeless people are heading to Brighton and Hove to escape a purge of London’s streets ahead of the Olympics.

Charities have reported “harassment” of rough sleepers in the capital as London mayor Boris Johnson looks to eradicate homelessness before the 2012 Games.

As people look to escape the operation, Sussex Police has been forced to include the impact into its plans to deal with homeless people. It comes as city bosses reported dramatic increases in both rough sleeping and homelessness with hundreds more possibly affected due to changes in Governm├│ent benefits.

Hove MP Mike Weatherley said: “If there has been some sort of drive to reduce homelessness in London, I can only hope that it has been carried out in a responsible manner. Moving on a problem, rather than tackling it, is hardly fair. I look forward to looking into this further as soon as I receive full confirmation of the facts.”

The campaign to end rough sleeping in London for good began in 2005 after the capital was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. Within this is Operation Poncho, a joint council and police initiative which has been criticised by charities for “harassment” tactics.

It included reports of people being woken in the night and forced to move on. Previous Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and Atlanta in 1996 saw reports of forcible removal of the homeless during the games for image purposes. Brighton and Hove City Council leader Bill Randall said the latest rough sleeping figures were “indicative of the housing issues we face”.

Council officials have counted 42 rough sleepers in the city – three times the 14 reported by the Government in December. The latest figure is comparable to 1998 when there were 48 rough sleepers recorded on the city’s streets. However, council counts are generally recognised as including only a fraction of the true level of rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove.

Chief Inspector Bruce Mathews, of Sussex Police, said it was hard to gauge the reasons why homeless people move from one place to another. However, he said: “There is always a possibility that if somewhere else is focusing on homeless people, they may displace any problem or issue. It is one of those issues we are aware of but I can’t say whether it is having an effect on either London's volumes or the type of person that is homeless in the city.”

Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas recently claimed 840 people in the city could be affected by Government changes to housing benefit. She said: “My surgeries are full of people who are struggling to pay rent and find alternatives to overcrowded and overpriced accommodation “Ministers must now heed the warnings and reverse this measure to avert an epidemic of homelessness amongst the most vulnerable in our community.”

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Scandal of 17-19 Grand Parade, Baron Homes and Brighton and Hove City Council



Princes House, Brighton
Residents of 17/19 Grand Parade agreed to be interviewed about the living conditions of the “emergency temporary accommodation” of inner Brighton.

Each resident interviewed has a different story of the shameful squalour and scandalous neglect of the accommodation into which Brighton and Hove City Council’s housing and ‘rough sleepers’ teams place homeless and vulnerable persons.

Their stories speak well for themselves.  You will see from our website’s video footage that 17/19 Grand Parade is a sorry excuse for “emergency temporary accommodation”.  Some residents have been left there for over two years.  You will also see the appalling manner in which the premises are run.

However, the story does not end there. There is more to this story than at first meets the eye. Video evidence on our blog provides proof that the “emergency temporary accommodation” is ran by Brighton-based company, The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd.

Baron Homes: making money out of poverty 

The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd is, in fact, a sister company of Baron Estates, a fact conveniently overlooked on their website.  Their address is 22A East Street Arcade.  At 12 East Street Arcade reside the plush offices of Baron Estates. The same premises of Princes House, with luxury flats for sale for £700,000, appears on both websites.

And as if to demonstrate just how ‘close’ to Brighton and Hove City Council these estate and lettings agents are, the addresses of both offices are just yards away from Brighton and Hove City Council’s Housing and City Support Team, who keep a steady stream of homeless clients flowing into 17/19 Grand Parade and Baron Homes’s other properties. Baron Estates website advertises that their ‘London Office’ resides at 121 Park Lane, Mayfair, which, conveniently, is also the site of the, global, ‘Guild of Professional Estate Agents’, which boasts of its ability to access “the lucrative London and international investor markets”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither the website for Baron Estates or The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd say anything about Baron Homes’s responsibility for 17/19 Grand Parade, their ‘emergency accommodation’ in Brunswick Square or Windsor Court in Windsor Street.

Baron Homes do, however, list the large array of rather more lavish properties for which they also have responsibility. These include Princes House on North Street and other commercial and residential properties. Baron Estates also act as agents for properties around Brighton and the surrounding area, with some advertised for sale for as much as £2.4 million.

And it is no wonder the property companies are able to afford to acquire such property for their portfolios.  On average, Brighton and Hove City Council transfer into the bank account of The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd a staggering £1.2 million a year, presumably in housing benefits.  Not bad for a company that claims to have been established in 1994, is it?

The Eye of the Needle has established that the Baron property empire are not just ‘agents’ for 17/19 Grand Parade, but owners and it is incredible that an agency who are beneficiaries of so much housing benefit and whose sister company are selling properties for six figures, are unable to remind themselves, or indeed be reminded by the Council, to maintain their property even to a barely minimal standard.  With their vast wealth they could even employ staff to care for Brighton’s most vulnerable.

Baron Homes charge the Council in excess of £150 a week in order to accommodate Brighton’s poor.  This is double what would be charged by an ordinary landlord for far better accommodation in Brighton.  Yet, the accommodation is truly abysmal.   How can it be that a company making so much financial return out of the misery of 17/19 Grand Parade can put such a minimal effort into the living conditions of the premises, while at the same time boast of the stunning beauty of its more expensive, luxury accommodation in Brighton and beyond?  We at The Eye of a Needle would suggest that this company may find public knowledge of their responsibility for 17/19 Grand Parade rather embarrassing, and, hopefully, so too will their shareholders.

How can it be that Baron Homes can be beneficiaries of so much public money when as yet it appears nobody from the Council has ordered an inquiry into the “emergency temporary accommodation”?  How can a company be so vastly wealthy and yet give nothing in return to the very poor from whom they profit?  How can Brighton and Hove City Council, who have a duty of care for Brighton’s most vulnerable, preside over this astonishing neglect of the poor?!

How can this wealthy empire demand from their poor tenants the £10 a week “top-up” fees that are compulsory for the residents of the 17-19 Grand Parade, a fee for which they receive scant in return in terms of quality of life?  What grave and scandalous injustice, that this Brighton mafia robs from the poor from their weekly allowance just to get more wealthy than they already are!?  Does their avarice know no bounds!?

A scandal worthy of the attention of the local and national media

The story of Baron Homes and their all too cosy relationship with Brighton and Hove City Council is unclear, rather murky so to speak, but it is surely worthy of local and perhaps national media attention.  For under the responsibility of Baron Homes is also accommodation of a similar nature in Brunswick Square from which more horror stories emerge. We are certain that if all of the poor homeless men and women of these residences knew of the vast wealth of the international company which has responsibility for these premises they would be utterly scandalised, as would many of the good people of Brighton and Hove.

It is a wonder how the local press has never picked up on this story, but then with the amount of money involved in this scandal it is perhaps unsurprising. It may be that a company as big as Baron Homes Corporation Ltd are simply ‘too big to touch’.   They are not, however, too big for this magazine. Nor, for that matter, are Brighton and Hove City Council, the leaders of which should be ashamed of themselves for not investigating and ordering the improvement of 17/19 Grand Parade, oiled, as it is, by public money.  It is a national scandal and our videos of interviews with residents will communicate the depth of this scandal more adequately than we can do in words.

Huge wealth made from the misery of  Brighton’s poor, homeless and destitute

Indeed, someone, somewhere, is getting very wealthy off the backs of these poor tenants trapped in the squalour of 17/19 Grand Parade, Brunswick Square and other rented dumps in Brighton and they are giving nothing back to them in return.  Unlike The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd, Baron Estates is able to boast of its membership of the Guild of Professional Estate agents and its approval by the Government’s Property Ombudsman scheme, a Guild of which we can only presume that Baron Homes Corporation is not a member.

Perhaps the ‘Property Ombudsman’ scheme for lettings agents should still be informed of Baron Homes’s terrible management of the premises of 17/19 Grand Parade. It reflects rather badly on Baron Estates.

More generally, howver, the whole nature of local Government’s relationship with the The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd is rather mysterious. It is interesting that Baron Estates are members of the ‘Guild of Professional Estate Agents’, but The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd appears not to be, but given that the Guild shares office space with Baron Estates’s office in 121 Park Lane, Mayfair, one wonders whether it exists only to serve their interests in “lucrative investment” operations.

Regardless to say, the relationship between Brighton and Hove City Council and this company stinks to high heaven and all the more in the light of the fact that Baron Estates boast of their other services.

These ‘services’ include their ‘Shops Department’, their ‘Office Space’ department, their ‘Industrial Property Department’, their ‘Valuation Department’, their ‘Commercial Land Development Consultancy and Town Planning Department’, ‘Motor Trade and Roadside Property Department’, their ‘Hotels Department’, ‘Nursing Homes Department’, ‘Business Sales Department’ and ‘Investment Property Department’.  It rather looks like, between them, The Baron Homes Corporation and Baron Estates have Brighton pretty much sewn up!

Quite what is the nature of the relationship between Brighton and Hove City Council and The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd, when the same company that runs the most squalid, wretched emergency temporary accommodation in Brighton is also able to buy up the much sought after Regents Arcade, as reported by The Argus, for £10 million pounds, in 2004?

Perhaps it is not surprising that The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd were able to afford Regents Arcade. As well as the housing benefits and “top-up fee” revenue, just look at what Director of the company, Mrs Nazila Blencowe, is ‘President’ of: Baron International, Inc. The Director of the mysterious Baron organisation has been living in Beverley Hills, USA!  Lucky for some! What the tenants of 17/19 wouldn’t give!

The Blencowes: The Barons of Brighton

So who is the Director of The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd and who is the Director of Baron Estates?  Well, our investigation has discovered that Mrs Nazila Blencowe is Director of The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd.  Michael Blencowe, is Director of Baron Estates and Michael is the son of Nazila Blencowe.  Now there is a co-incidence!  Could it be that the public money flowing into the account of The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd is assisting, in some way, the acquisition of new property for the Baron Estates portfolio as well?  Surely not!  It couldn’t be!

And it appears that Mrs Nazila Blencowe, at least, is one very wealthy lady, indeed.  According to property website Blockshopper, Mrs Blencowe’s Beverley Hills property at 1121 Marylin Drive was bought on 31 March 2009 by her and her now deceased husband, Richard Blencowe, for $6,685,000.  By 2nd April 2009, ownership had changed hands to Baron Holdings International Llc.  Now, it is being marketed for sale by ‘owner’ Mr Curt D Cassingham and is being offered for $7,995,000.  Mr Blencowe may have gone to his Maker, but Nazila still appears to be cashing in on her ‘investments’.

Mrs Nazila Blencowe, as the Director of The Baron Homes Corporation Ltd., I would say you owe the poor of Brighton and Hove, living in the disgusting excuses for “emergency temporary accommodation” an explanation. You and your son clearly manage a considerable array of Brighton’s property, both residential and commercial. Your firm are clearly very, very wealthy and so are you. You have profitted, at least in part, from your ownership of Brighton’s most appalling ‘emergency temporary accommodation’.  This accommodation is by no means adequate for Brighton’s most poor and defenseless and you quite blatantly charge the Council at least double what it would cost for them to place Brighton’s most vulnerable in more adequate property with different landlords.

Perhaps, in the light of this investigation, you could put some new locks on the doors of the tenants at 17-19 Grand Parade so they’ve got some security.  Perhaps you could show a little more generosity to the people who have to endure harsh poverty and the unsupervised mayhem of the premises who contribute to your company’s great wealth.

Perhaps you could live there for a week and see what it is like. Within those walls are housed people with addictions, people with mental health problems, people who have suffered greatly and still suffer.  Their sufferings are compounded by the poor quality of your accommodation.

Your money and your vast property empire may make you happy, but ultimately, the rich who spit upon the poor in this life will have some serious explaining to do at their tribunal before Almighty God and all your money that you stole from Brighton’s poor will never buy back your immortal soul.  Your company must literally be swimming in public money.  For the love of God and the sake of your soul, give something back to those in your care.

What is ‘Baron International, Inc’?

The vast wealth of the operation and Mrs Blencowe’s status as  an agent of ‘Baron Holdings International LLC’ and President of ‘Baron International, Inc’, means that this company, presumably encompassing Baron Estates, is highly interested in investors, stocks and shares.  Even with the revenue of housing benefits, no company can emerge out of the blue in 1994 and acquire so much, so quickly and our investigation has uncovered that ownership of ‘Baron International, Inc’ is shared between different parties.

The Veromi Business Search website informs us that ownership is shared between at least five people.  These parties include Nazila Blencowe, Maria S Freebairn, Robert Freebairn, Arthur Hernandez and Mark R Jones.  Mark R Jones just so happens to link Baron International with Best Beverage of America Inc.  It just so happens that the corporation of Baron International, Inc is a name associated with beverage equipment distribution.

'Baron International, Inc., a multi-million dollar a year revenue operation,was founded in 1982 by Mr. Robert Ingala and Mr. Norman Kushner. Since its inception, the company built many restaurants and has sold several beer systems and equipment. The company serves major companies such as Applebee's, Pepsi and National Amusement (Mr. Summer Redstone, Viacom), among many other major corporations.'

Well, well, well. Who would have thought it, eh? 17/19 Grand Parade, the most filthy dive of “emergency temporary accommodation” in Brighton, is, in fact, run by a multi-million dollar company in West Orange, New Jersey, USA. Now, we don’t know about you, but that is what we call a story!

How can it be, that a small cabal of wealthy Americans can chunks of Brighton?  Wouldn’t you say that Brightonians have a right to know about it? The poor of Brighton sure deserve to know it, because with a wealthy empire like that, “emergency accommodation” in Brighton could become rather more pleasant in a matter of a year or two. Perhaps, with that vast wealth, 17-19 Grand Parade could be transformed into a decent, staffed, safe, secure, caring home for Brighton’s most vulnerable. You may not think they are worth it, but they are and they deserve the truth and more than that, they deserve justice!

Brighton and Hove City Council’s neglect of their duty of care to the homeless

As for Brighton and Hove City Council,  well, we think you may be hearing from some of the residents of 17/19 Grand Parade quite soon. You have been well and truly exposed. You thought that the people of Brighton would never hear of your disgraceful and perhaps dangerously close friendship with the Baron empire. You were wrong.  You had thought that The Argus could be relied upon not to investigate 17/19 Grand Parade and sorrowfully you were right.  But now, at long last, a new publication tells the truth, the truth is out and the people of Brighton will know of Baron Homes and their exploitation for profit of Brighton’s most poor and defencesless!  We condemn your indifference and your exploitation of their sufferings and the Council that neglected to bring you to book and this, we assure you, is just the start.







Thursday, 16 June 2011

Letting Agents Change Lock on Brighton Couple's Door While They Are Out

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon their honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.


Article 12 of the Human Rights Act







A Brighton couple were shocked yesterday to hear that the locks of their home had been changed while they were out and now find themselves homeless.

The couple, George Horvath, 48, and Dianne Brennan, 47, of Arundel Court, Brighton were evicted suddenly and without due warning for breach of their licence agreement with Brighton and Hove City Council following a short series of disputes over noise with a neighbour.

According to the couple, this action against them has taken place without formal written notice or fair warning of eviction and after reassurances from KEM maintenance agents that no such action would take place.

Mr Horvath spoke yesterday of his shock at hearing the news.

"We were in a local public house when we heard the news that the locks had been changed on our doors and that the maintenance agents would allow us into the property to collect some things, but that this was no longer our home. I understand that we have had a dispute with our neighbour who lives in the flat below us, but this is totally unfair."

What makes the news of this action, taken by managing agents, Graves Son and Pilcher all the more shocking is that Diane Brennan is a mental health services client of the Council who suffers bi-polar disorder. When Mr Horvath tried to obtain information concerning the nature of complaints made against him to the managing agents, he maintains that he was stonewalled.

"Graves Son and Pilcher wouldn't tell me anything about the nature of the complaints against us or who was making the complaints. When I asked for written evidence or any correspondence that there was any evidence against us, I was told that the worker for the firm could not help me and then had the telephone put down on me."

The Brighton couple are now concerned about where Brighton and Hove City Council will place them next.  Diane Brennan, a mental health and Substance Misuse Service (SMS) client of the Council, expressed fears that the couple would be placed in Percival Terrace or another emergency homeless hostel in Brighton.

"I only associate Percival Terrace with drugs and addiction.  Since I have been at Arundel Court, I have been in rehab at Mill View and have given up both drink and drugs. I don't want to go back to that place in Percival Terrace. There are too many drug takers there and I will be tempted to go back to my former lifestyle. How can the Substance Misuse Service (SMS) allow this to happen to one of their clients?"
"Moreover, how can Brighton and Hove City Council allow this to happen to one of their mental health clients as well? I feel on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Can you imagine being out of the house and suddenly hearing that you are homeless, unable to pick up more than a few of your belongings and that you are out on the street?"

Homeless in Brighton with Nowhere to Store their Possessions

Ms Brennan, upset at the couple's treatment, spoke yesterday of her fears for the future.

"We have nowhere to store our belongings. We are going to lose everything.  If we are not found somewhere to live other than an emergency room, then all of our belongings will be taken away and destroyed. Where can we store our things? The way we are being treated is disgusting. Our human rights have been violated and trampled upon. Even if you are going to evict someone from a property because they have had a dispute over noise with a neighbour, you surely can't just lock them out of the house and throw them on the street without even a court order? We don't deserve this treatment. Nobody deserves this kind of treatment." 

The couple had been placed at the property in temporary accommodation at Arundel Court, Brighton by the local authority, having been moved from their long-term emergency accommodation at Percival Terrace, Kemptown.

The distressed couple stayed at a friend's house last night, but for the time being are without a fixed address as Brighton and Hove City Council determine to find the couple emergency accommodation. At the time of writing, Graves Son and Pilcher were unavailable for comment.

Mr Horvath, fed up with the situation commented, "I hear there are a few people in tents protesting and asking for 'Real Democracy Now'. After this experience, I am tempted to join them. Where are our human rights?"

If you wish to make your views of this matter known to those with responsibility for this couple's very sudden homelessness and eviction...

You can contact Graves Son and Pilcher Estate and Lettings Agents here.

You can contact Brighton and Hove City Council here.

UPDATE: At 3pm George was due to be let into the flat. At 3.30pm he was called by KEM maintenance firm and told that they could not come and see him to allow him into the flat. Diane has yet to pick up her medication from the property because they are not allowed back into their home.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Brighton and Hove City Council Paying Nearly £600 a Week in Housing Benefit, Keeping a Couple Apart

In an interview with The Eye of a Needle, a couple who reside in different homeless hostels tell of their frustrations with Brighton and Hove City Council, and their aspirations to build a better life together...

Outside the Baptist church on London Road, I talk with 'John' and 'Mary'. Both are watching the World go by in Brighton, as they often do. Neither are sleeping on the street, though both have suffered homelessness in the past. Both are tired and frustrated with life in Brighton and Hove, and really a country, that crushes the aspirations of the poor. 'John' and 'Mary' are sceptical about the idea of a magazine that challenges the prevailing attitudes of the city to the homeless.

'John', however, though doubtful that a magazine can or will 'make a difference', still wants to discuss the issues that he and 'Mary' faces everyday. 'Mary' wants to discuss their housing situation.

Housing

We are often told that the housing situation in Brighton is criticial, that there is a lack of affordable housing, that the housing stock is low and that waiting lists are long for council housing. Some people, however, are excluded from the 'ladder' altogether.

"'John' and I live in separate hostels. I am in St Patrick's Nightshelter. He is at Glenwood Lodge. We are forced to live separate lives. He is in Brighton and I am in Hove. In September, we want to get married. We've wanted to get married for a long time because, even if we've had ups and downs, we love each other. Our situation is absurd. As it stands, Brighton and Hove City Council are paying out over £600 a week in Housing Benefit to our hostels, which keeps us apart. £600 a week is a huge amount of money to be paying a couple to live apart, I think you'll agree."
"The Council pay £288 a week to Glenwood Lodge in Housing Benefits for 'John'. There is also a 'top-up- fee' of £18 a week that 'John' has to pay. To my hostel, the Council pay £298 a week. I have to pay £10.50 a week extra in a top-up fee for St Patrick's hostel. That is a huge amount of money for Councils to be paying out at a time of recession.  Of course, we want to get married and live together. We'd like to live together now. Why are the Council paying out nearly £600 a week to keep us apart, when they could save money in the long term if they helped us to either get council housing to raise a deposit for a one-bed flat or studio flat in Brighton? Even if a one-bed flat in Brighton costs £600 a month, though we'd accept a studio for £450 a month, the Council would still save loads of money in putting us through a private tenancy. A private tenancy of £600 a month would still only work out as £150 a week in terms of housing benefit. That would save the British taxpayer £450 a week! The Council are just squandering money like its water!" 

It has long been the opinion of the editor of The Eye of a Needle that all is not what it seems with regard to the homeless hostels of Brighton and, in particular, their relationship with Brighton and Hove City Council. Brighton and Hove City Council are at the coal face of the homeless epidemic in the United Kingdom, caused by various individual circumstances. However, it is clear that the hostels, most of which are not ran by the Council, but by private limited companies, are making a great deal of money off the backs of the poor.

If the average British taxpayer understood just how much private hostel companies are creaming off the system, there would be a sense of national scandal. Brighton and Hove City Council preside over this staggering waste of taxpayers money and have never done anything to bring the hostels of Brighton to book. Neither do they look at alternative options for the poor and homeless. The hostels system is a merry-go-round in which the poor are used and exploited so that extortionate rates of housing benefits can be paid to unscrupulous hostel owners. The poor get meagre accommodation (often just a room), while whoever owns the hostels in Brighton, presumably, drives around in an expensive car. This is a scandal that recently hit St Patrick's Nightshelter when it was discovered that the board of trustees was made up of the family of the vicar who founded the shelter - and they were paid handsome salaries.

'Mary' maintains that when she talked to St Patrick's hostel and asked whether they thought she would be able to get onto the council housing ladder with her fiance, she was told, "Don't bother. You're not even going to get accepted onto the list." Why? "Because of my criminal record and history, it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, that the Council will accept me and John onto their housing waiting list. The only way we could do it is if we went privately with a landlord."

Whatever Mary and John's background, history and past crimes, mostly drug-related, neither of them are extortioners - neither are they racketeers. For that is what the hostels system is in Brighton - extortion - the exploitation of the poor for profit - an exercise in racketeering. Not only that, but it is a system oiled by the Council itself and at huge public expense.

It all makes one wonder why many of these hostels operate at all. Is it in order to 'help the homeless'? Or is ensuring a steady stream of homeless 'clients' just a way of exploiting their situation in order to make alot of money for the hostel owners? The editor leaves that for you to decide.

Jobs, Unemployment, Public Perceptions and Crime

'John' is depressed about his and 'Mary's' situation.

"The worst thing about my situation is that I know I can't get work. The only work I can get is a little bit of building and labouring here and there, but at the moment my body couldn't take it. I think people look at the homeless and the poor and think they are idle and just want to live off the State. Nothing could be further from the truth. If companies actually employed me, and many of the people who live in hostels to work for a living - a real living - then offending rates would be cut half probably overnight. What me, and these kids who are coming out of prison for drugs, need, is work - a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Something to do! I want to work!"
"I want to be able to work and to come home after work and be able to look at 'Mary' and know that I am providing for her.
"Living off state benefits does nothing, absolutely nothing for my self-esteem or anybody elses! If they paid people £25,000 a year to live on benefits, they'd still take drugs and commit crime - but if people were employed, then it would be different. Ex-cons don't, I believe wouldn't, rob off an employer because, as the saying goes, we don't "sh*t on our own doorstep". We have a morality. We have morality. It is just that there is no incentive to be law abiding, because good behaviour isn't encouraged - only crime is punished!"

So, why is the re-offending rate so high?

"Look. You've got all these kids and adults going to jail for drug-related offenses. They go to jail, but, at least in jail, they get three square meals a day and they work there. They work. It might be menial work. It might be kitchen work, it might be gardening or cleaning. They even do courses and NVQs. I've got NVQs coming out of my ears. But it makes no difference to your life on the outside, because when you come outside, back into the World, no employer wants anything to do with you. You'll apply for work, like I've applied for so many jobs, but you'll never find work because of your criminal record. They talk about rehabilitation. There is no rehabilitation for the man with a criminal record because no employer wants to know you! They run a CRB check. They get the CRB check back and then they don't even write to you to explain why you have not been selected for a job! As soon as you've got a criminal record, that's it! There's no forgiveness. There's no mercy. Your life is over, it's all over after your first sentence!" 
"If they could set up a workshop of some kind in London Road, or Brighton  or outside of Brighton and employ men and women to make things, or employ them to do things, then you'd see the offending rates drop dramatically. We'd probably even make money for our employer, or the Goverment and offending would drop? Why? Because we'd all suddenly have a reason to live! Something to live for! We don't want to sit here all day drinking and being 'anti-social'. But because of our past we are excluded from the rest of society. What else is there to do? What motivation is there to change your life?"

I suggest to 'John' whether he could do volunteering.

"I could volunteer for a while and get three days a week working in a charity shop, but then what? Suddenly, I'm not 'available for work' seven days a week and the jobcentre would cut my benefits because I'm not out there 'actively seeking work'. I'd be punished by the State for volunteering in a charity shop and I'd lose my entitlements because I'm not 'available for work' all week. I wanted to do a course recently. I want to change my career, I'm too old and not well enough for building work, but as soon as I told them that I wanted to do a course in computing, they told me that I'd lose my entitlements because I'd be no longer available for work all week. So, you can't win! If you try and do something positive you are punished." 
"Anyway, why should I volunteer when not only would I lose my benefits, but shouldn't I be able to work! Work is a human right! It is about dignity. But no, once you've got a criminal record, you could get all the qualifications in the World, you could volunteer for months and still never get a job at the end of it because once that CRB comes back, and they know your past, they'll never so much as write back to you. If anything is going to change, then at least some employers have to take on people with a criminal record so that they can live a positive life and contribute to society. Either employers should do it or the Government should do it, instead of paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds to probation workers to sit on their backsides in offices all day long dealing with repeat offenders. That is why poor people are kept down, kept poor and why so many re-offend and get involved with drugs again and again. You carry a stigma and that stigma of crime and drugs never leaves you. That is why these ex-cons have no self-esteem or self-worth. You lose your dignity and you can't participate in society. You are excluded from employment, housing and society and then they wonder why people keep re-offending!" 

The Stigma of Crime, Poverty and Drugs Stops People from Fulfilling their Potential

'Mary' picks up on the theme that 'John' has been at pains to emphasise - stigma.

"It is exactly the same with housing. The reason that we're not considered worthy to get onto a housing list is because of our past. I'll admit, I've done a lot of drugs, but I want to move on in life and get married to 'John', live in a house or a flat and live normally, but we won't be considered for housing because of our criminal records. It is a stigma that never leaves you. People don't understand this. If you've got a criminal record or you are known to the authorities for any kind of criminal behaviour then you won't be considered for either work or housing. That is what condemns us to the hostels system and that is why the Council will happily pay a hostel a ridiculous amount of money - keeping us apart - perhaps for as long as we live. With no work, the only way we could afford to raise money for a deposit for a private landlord would be through robbery, or drug-dealing, or something else illegal. Obviously, I don't want to go back to anything like that and neither does 'John' but it becomes the only remaining option. To get a house we'd have to commit crime because the Council won't consider us for housing because of our past crimes. We are punished whatever we do and nobody allows us a chance to work, to get employment, to get housing, to lift ourselves out of our situation."

When John and Mary get married (they are marrying for love, not housing) will it make any difference at all to the Council or to their future?  Are the Council really going to preside over a situation where a married couple will be living separate lives because they are too poor to access private rental? Are the Council going to continue paying a hostel nearly £600 a week in housing this couple separately? I am sure that at this time of economic austerity, some people would like to know about this astonishing waste of public money.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Brighton Man Alleges Eviction from St Patrick's Nightshelter for Suicide Bid

St Patrick's Nightshelter, Hove
A Brighton man has alleged that staff at St Patrick's Nightshelter have evicted him on the grounds that he attempted to hang himself in his room. The man was recently informed of the death of his 7-year-old daughter and had hit 'rock bottom'.

In attempting to hang himself, he damaged some property in the room. His suicide bid was not met with compassion, he alleges, but was served with an immediate eviction, making him homeless at a time of deep personal trauma.

Brighton Man Alleges Glenwood Lodge Evicted Him on False Grounds

Grand Parade, Brighton
A Brighton man named Ben has alleged that Glenwood Lodge homeless hostel evicted him at the weekend on false allegations that he spat at one of the workers. The hostel in Grand Parade (pictured left) left the man outside for reasons which left the man totally mystified.

Ben, aged in his 40s, insists that the worker at the hostel refused to allow him into the building so that he could sleep in his room - something which has never happened before.  He was told that he was no longer welcome at the hostel, yet he maintains that he was not given any valid reason for this being the case.

Having been refused entry into the hostel, where he has been resident for around 6 months, he became angry and visibly upset by the actions of the worker. Due to his behaviour upon hearing that he was no longer welcome, he was then arrested by Sussex Police and spent 14 hours in Hollingbury Police Station only to be released on bail. The Brighton man awaits a decision from Sussex Police as to whether he is guilty of anything, or not. In the meantime, however, the man is homeless.

He was refused entry to the hostel and was told that he had spat deliberately at one of the workers. He maintains that this allegation is without substance and that it is false, claiming that the CCTV would show any evidence of such an action on his part.  The man has been made homeless by the hostel, and he alleges that the hostel worker did not fetch him any clothes, food, or even his sleeping bag, from his room, so that he could keep warm at night.

He alleges that this is the second time in a year that this has happened to him. The last time it occurred was at New Steine Mews and he was evicted in winter. Again, he was arrested, only to be found innocent of any crime. Still, however, despite his innocence, the hostel kept by their decision to evict him, even though the police found no reason to take any action, to prosecute or follow up the allegation. He was left, once more, in deep winter, to survive in the cold with no duvet, sleeping bag or any of his belongings.

Monday, 30 May 2011

"This is Brighton Station. Welcome to Brighton Station. There is no local connection. This is the End of the Line..."

A couple sit hunched over with their dog under the arches of Brighton station.  Kristian, who sits with his girlfriend, complains of what he suspects is urine that has run from the top of Trafalgar Street down the pavement in a stream to hit his blanket.  He hopes it is beer, but he isn’t so sure.  This isn’t Calcutta. This is Brighton.  Welcome to Brighton & Hove: the ‘city by the sea’.  His girlfriend is tired, her head covered by a dirty sleeping bag.  Kristian is alert, if tired, and is keen to talk about what is going on in his life at the moment.  He says it is nice to be able to “off-load” some of what he experiences in Brighton.

At 33, he has seen a lot of life and more the dark side of life than we would ever wish to see.  We did not speak for too long, but for enough time to get a sense of the desperation of life on the streets of Brighton, a life dispossessed, largely abandoned to the elements by the local authoritiy and left voiceless and powerless.

The Local Connection

For what feels like the hundredth time, I am told about the injustice of Brighton & Hove City Council’s ‘local connection policy’.  Kristian explains to me the absurdity of the couple’s situation with the Council.

“We arrived here seven years ago.  We have been on the streets in Brighton since then.  When we got here, we went to the Council and were told that because we were not from the area, that we would only be considered for housing if we had a ‘local connection’.  This has been the Council’s position for seven years. I mean, how long do you have to be living in a town before you are considered ‘local’ or to have a connection with the town?”

In Brighton, if you don’t have a ‘local connection’ then you are out on a limb.  The Council’s policy of only coming to the assistance of ‘residents’ who have family in the area leaves many of the homeless stranded, without access to shelter.  This policy does not just mean that you won’t be considered for the Council housing waiting list.  It also means that you will find it nearly impossible to gain access to a hostel in Brighton or Hove, since all referrals to hostels in Brighton are made through the Council.  This is a situation presided over by the Council, not a situation that has happened because of the policies of hostels themselves.

Of course, the quality of local hostels, in terms of care and provision is highly questionable.  Many of the hostels that do exist are run as private businesses that make great profit out of housing benefit, but give very little to the ‘clients’ in terms of accommodation. Still, while this itself is a scandal, it is one to be treated separately and for many on the street, any room is better than the squalor of the streets of Brighton.

The reality for Kristian is that the Council have relinquished any duty of care to the couple.  They are left to roam the streets, to sleep there, in all weather conditions, in every season.  It always astonishes me how the homeless cope in winter.

Kristian’s response is stoical, spoken by a man so accustomed to sleeping outside in winter that it is now routine.  “We have three sleeping bags.  We just survive with those.”  

Dignity

Kristian explains that streetlife is about more than being without a house.  It is not just shelter that you lose, but active participation in society, or even, membership of that society.

“The worst thing is the way we are seen by others.  People look at us, sitting here with a dog and just assume we are ‘scumbags’ or something.  I think people generally assume we are on drugs.  We’re not.  I managed to come off my drug habit.  I have a few beers but that is it.  People look at us and I think have a great deal of prejudice.  We carry a stigma.  On a Saturday night, drunk locals or visitors will come and sit with us but they’re not really interested in us.  The reality of being homeless in Brghton is that you are largely ignored and treated as if you are dirt.  We aren’t treated as people.  We aren’t treated with dignity.  Even when some people give us money, they’ll often kind of drop it at our feet.  It would be nice if people gave it to us in the hand as you would for anyone else.”

Brighton’s Heart of Darkness

Graham Greene, in his classic novel, ‘Brighton Rock’ portrayed a vision of Brighton that was dark at its heart, a sinister town that was brutal and violent, a place of warfare and criminality, gangsterism and murder.  The image that most people receive of Brighton nowadays is somewhat different.  The slum clearances of the 1930s, 40s and 50s led to a widescale ‘gentrification’ of inner Brighton, while the poor who had lived in the city were displaced and relocated to Whitehawk and Moulsecoomb.  Brighton and Hove is now a city in which money speaks, but people without it are voiceless and some, homeless.

Despite attempts to turn Brighton into a place of wealth, leisure, tourism and the ‘gay capital’ of the United Kingdom, Brighton is also the ‘drug-related death’ capital of the whole country.  This isn’t just something that affects the homeless, although it is they who are most penalised and they who suffer most casualties in the culture of death for which Brighton is famed.  Brighton’s hedonistic culture comes at a cost of human lives, tragically cut short by drug-fuelled suicide, overdoses and crime.

The recent senseless, brutal and shocking murder of a local Brighton man is still fresh in Kristian’s mind.  Detectives working for Sussex Police described the wounds and injuries of the man in the fatal attack as the worst they had ever seen.  Kristian and his girlfriend knew the victim well and were good friends with him.  They are still grieving over the loss of their friend.  The motive of the murder is still mysterious and the case is yet to go to trial.

“I saw his mutilated, bloody body laying on his bed. His skin had been ripped from his face, a deep, huge gash in his head, his body totally unrecognisable from the man I had known.  By then he’d already lost 80% of his blood.  I will never forget that image.  It will always haunt me, when I am awake and when I sleep and when I sleep, I cannot sleep well.  Apparently, Police received counselling because of what they saw.  We have received none and he was our friend.”

Kristian expresses his frustration with the system in Brighton that condemns many homeless to destitution.

“When we went to the Council, after that, again seeking assistance with housing, the lady behind the counter, on hearing of the death of our friend said, ‘Oh, that’s unfortunate’. Unfortunate? Unfortunate is having your foot ran over by a car.  Losing one of your best friends isn’t unfortunate. It is terrible! Devastating!”
The couple have all but given up hope that the Council will recognise their plight and assist them.

 “They don’t want to help us and that is that.  They have this local connection policy and they are sticking to it, in our case, at any rate.”

Inconsistencies in the Local Connection Policy

I have met many of the homeless of Brighton and noticed that while the Council operate a stringent local connection policy, it appears to be open to interpretation in different cases.  I know one man who arrived from another city.  For months he slept rough by the Babylon Lounge in Hove.  For months he was told that he had no local connection and so therefore could not be helped.  Then, to my surprise, he told me that he had been housed.  He, too, was surprised by the Council’s sudden decision to make an exception of him.  I was happy for him, of course, but wondered exactly what criteria the Council have for coming to the assistance of the homeless in Brighton.  Not too long after he was housed in a hostel in Brighton, he was informed that he had been found a flat where he could live independently.  He struggles by and is poor, but it appears that the local connection policy suddenly was dropped for this individual.

Few would doubt that the Council have a huge task on their hands in responding to the homeless population of Brighton and that the policy which the Council operate is a response to Brighton’s popularity as a destination for those who have fallen out of mainstream society and have become street homeless or who wish to live here to gain accommodation.

However, it is also true that many people are welcomed to Brighton with open arms.  The rich and the wealthy, for example, have no problems gaining property.  Indeed, some use Brighton as a second home.  There is also a great deal of vacant property in Sussex, The Argus newspaper reporting last year that some 21,000 properties remain unoccupied across the county. The Council also employ a number of people to be ‘rough sleepers workers’ and have a ‘Rough Sleepers Street Services and Relocation Team (RSSRT) which must cost a considerable amount of money.

Meanwhile, there is urgent need for quality hostel accommodation in Brighton, as well as provision for the homeless in terms of shelter and care.  For people like Kristian and his girlfriend, however, one policy makes them destitute.  The vast majority of private landlords and lettings agents require huge deposits of rent which the poor cannot afford.  Brighton is a place for the wealthy only, a place where many of the poor and the homeless are excluded from both housing provision and mainstream society.

‘Equality’ and ‘Diversity’

Much is said in modern Britain, and certainly modern Brighton, about ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’.  It is lamentable that these two fashionable buzz words do not apply to the treatment of the poor in the city by the sea.  Where, it must be asked, is the campaign group for the inviolable rights of the homeless? Where is their voice?  Who will speak up for them in Parliament, or in the Council or in any of the corridors of power and influence in the United Kingdom?  That is why this newsletter and blog, The Eye of a Needle, has been started: to give the homeless a much needed voice.

This newsletter is aimed at raising awareness of the plight of Brighton’s homeless community, to document their courage and their sufferings and to encourage social change which will see their urgent concerns addressed in a concrete way.  Human rights, nowadays dressed in terms of personal freedoms have become distorted.  Real human rights are documented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It is high time that the rights of courageous couples like Kristian and his girlfriend were defended and upheld by the people of Brighton.  Like us, Kristian has dreams and aspirations for the future.

“My hope is that we can one day get a place of our own.  I used to be a carpenter.  I’d still love to do it, but where would I keep my tools?  It is hard to get the motivation when you are sleeping on the streets and you have nothing.  Maybe, if I could get myself on my feet, I’d be able to do it, but also, who would take me on?  Because of my past I have a list of convictions for petty crime and then there is the stigma of how we live. You can’t just lift yourself off the street and into normal life.” 

For many on the streets in Brighton, there is no ‘local connection’ and Brighton is, sadly, very much the ‘end of the line’.

Are you homeless?  Do you have a story you want to share? Contact The Eye of the Needle to have your story told.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

"Where is the Justice?"

Justice by  Raphael Sanzio
A couple (let's call them 'Sarah' and 'John') who I know have been evicted from a squat onto the street. Currently, I believe they are staying in a youth hostel. I'll relate to you what I remember of what I have been told so far.

The couple were made homeless a year ago following rent problems in a flat nearby the squat. The case of the couple was not helped by a misunderstanding in which their housing association was complicit. The result was still their eviction.

They discovered an empty property (one of many in Brighton) and moved in. The place was a dive, having been empty for over 11 years. Rat faeces were everywhere, bins of rubbish were everywhere, it was filthy. Rotting food ran out of the refrigerator. They cleaned it up to make it tenable. Though not paying rent, as squatters, they paid Council Tax on the property. They bought and installed a boiler. I assume they paid for heating and electricity. I know that squatting is an illegal activity, but having been made homeless they were desperate. They made the flat their home. The couple are not 'trouble-makers' and neither are they on drink or drugs. They didn't cause disturbance, just found shelter there. Unfortunately, that wasn't quite how other residents saw it.

One resident took a particular dislike to the couple because they were squatters. John was beaten up outside the flat by one of the other residents, kicked in the ribs and face. The police arrived and handcuffed him. Towards the end of their tenure they had a brick through the window. As it turned out, after the 11-12 years of the place being formally unoccupied, someone finally came forward to claim that flat as their own, the whole building having been left to him in a will. The couple bear no grudges against the owner since it is his property. Perhaps he will sell it or live there himself, it is unknown, but for the time being it will be boarded up once more, a court order having been secured and bailiffs notified to have the couple evicted.

Brighton and Hove City Council's 'Diversity' logo
So far, so predictable. What John and certainly Sarah were not expecting was what happened next. On going along together to the Housing department of Brighton and Hove City Council, they waited, as most do for five hours to be seen by someone. Having already been brushed off by one advisor Sarah was finally seen by a Council official.

The official told Sarah that because they were not formally a couple that they would be treated individually. This, too, Sarah more or less expected. What she didn't expect was for the Council official to tell her that the Council was under no legal obligation to house Sarah by means of either temporary accommodation or a hostel.  She was told that there are no hostels for women in Brighton, which is true, but there are mixed hostels. Sarah has no problem with a 'local connection' because she has children living in Brighton. So, why is the Council under no 'legal obligation' to house her? Simply because as a woman with no substance misuse problems, she is not a 'vulnerable person'.

"So, do I have to have a smack habit to get housed?" Sarah is left thinking. "Don't get me wrong," she says, "I don't judge the alcoholics and drug addicts in Brighton. I just can't understand why, as a woman, sleeping rough, with no accommodation, when a rapist is roaming around Brighton, if John got housed and I didn't, how am I not a vulnerable person? Where is the justice? I know we've been squatting the past year, but I've contributed quite a lot to the economy when I was working as a Probation Officer. I pay Council Tax. Where are the Council when you finally actually need them? It's an insult. They told me to sleep out rough and allow the 'rough sleepers' team to find me. It is still really cold out there at night!"

These are, I think you will agree, valid questions. Why is a woman on the streets not classed as a 'vulnerable person' who the Council decide can just leave on the streets and claim they have no duty to provide her with shelter or assistance? Why should she be at the bottom of the pile for housing and so many others be seen as a priority need in her place? Should she turn up for her next appointment with the Housing department with needle tracks in her arm and a can of Special Brew? Would it help if they were, and I hate to say this, immigrants? Would it help their cause if John turned up in drag and said he was waiting for a sex change or Sarah said she was a lesbian? Will the Council help pay housing benefit for a bed in a youth hostel, even though its five pound less than for your average hostel? All I'm saying is the answer to the last question is probably no.

For his part, John was advised to go to St Patrick's Night Shelter in Brighton. The couple have enough money to stay in a youth hostel for a week, but already John is trying to access a 'crisis loan' from the DWP to try and raise money for the next week. I know its not like having your home swept away in a tsunami and miraculously surviving only to find out that the local nuclear power plant has blown up, but still, it isn't nice losing your shelter and being told not that you in the queue behind immigrants and drug addicts, but that you aren't in the queue at all and that even though you are from Brighton, you belong on the streets.