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.


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.