Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New Steine Mews: A Place of Change

A friend called Jason has been evicted from New Steine Mews in this the Octave of Christmas. In fact, he was evicted on New Year's Day.

Part of the problem with Jason, well, in fact a great deal of the problem with Jason is his alcoholism and the 'anti-social behaviour' which is left in its wake. I've known Jason for quite a few years and I will not lie about him.

One day you see him and he's very likeable indeed. The next day you see him and you want to throttle him, so it is not the case that I have no sympathy with the staff at New Steine Mews.

However, one would have thought that what with all the specialist training staff undergo in the homeless sector of how to deal with 'vulnerable persons' with both substance misuse problems and mental health issues, staff at New Steine Mews would know how to deal with Jason. However, after what appears to be a series of anti-social behaviour incidents at New Steine Mews, Jason was evicted and sent into the cold and rain of January Brighton at 11am on New Years Day. This event of eviction seems to happen about every few months, Jason is kicked out and then a few months later he is welcomed back to New Steine where the same events occur.

Whatever New Steine Mews is, it is not a place of change, as its website claims. It is ran by Brighton and Hove City Council, which means that they apparently have a statutory duty to take back those who they evict eventually, and eventually Jason will be placed back there, because that seems to be the only hostel that will take him on, but I was interested to hear a rumour that, allegedly, a third of New Steine Mews is owned by Baron Homes Corporation Ltd. I wonder whether anyone can confirm that for me, as that would be more than simply an interesting footnote to the scandal that is Brighton and Hove City Council's relationship with Brighton's biggest and least ethical 'tramp-farming' landlord.

Jason claims that his eviction, just like the last time, occurred at a weekend because different staff are on duty at weekends and perhaps they are less tolerant of Jason. I can't say whether that is true or not. All I know is that I know Jason to be a 'challenging' person and a 'vulnerable person'. I know that Jason can be, at times, a very anti-social person indeed, but I know of no action so anti-social as to summarily kick someone out of their room onto the street and into the cold and rain because their behaviour is 'intolerable'. We are always told in modern society that we must be tolerant of different people. We must be tolerant of homosexuals, lesbians, transgendered people, bisexual people, people of different races and ethnicities and religions. Ostensibly, tolerance is a Council mantra, so much so that equality and diversity legislation is wired into every institution and item of legislation that comes from Parliament. We seem to tolerate everything but 'anti-social behaviour'.

This seems to be a feature of modern British life and certainly Brighton's hostels system. At any one time, it seems, men and women are being evicted from hostels for their behaviour by staff who have been trained specifically to, you know, work with homeless people, but when the tenant's behaviour doesn't change, the model for addressing the problem doesn't seem to be a sober committee with the guilty party, but instead a rather cruel and unmerciful slinging onto the street, whereby the guilty party can reflect on his actions in the bitter winter cold with not even a sleeping bag to keep him warm at night.

Oh, but don't worry about him, because, sooner or later the 'Rough Sleepers Workers' will find him, discuss his options with him, encouage him to quit drinking and eventually, after about 3-10 weeks of sleeping in the cold, place him back in the same hostel where history can repeat itself in the 'Place of Change'. I called New Steine and asked them about Jason:

"Oh, we've tried working with him to get him to change his behaviour but he doesn't," said the receptionist.

Hmm. Interesting. Have, I wonder, the staff of New Steine Mews and whoever is Jason's keyworker attempted to talk to Jason about what he thinks could happen in order for his behaviour to change? I've no doubt at all that Jason needs detox at Mill View, where he is due to go hopefully soon, but I believe that a part of the problem with Jason is that he has absolutely nothing to do. Do the staff workers know that Jason is (apparently) a qualified and very competent chef? Perhaps his keyworker could help Jason to access either voluntary or employment opportunities in cookery. He loves cooking and if New Steine Mews really is a 'place of change' perhaps supporting Jason into some kind of vocational work like cookery would really help him. It's a long shot but it might just work. Or, I don't know, maybe the staff at New Steine Mews are just in their jobs for the paycheck and don't really mind too much if Jason, one winter, should just snuff it out in the cold concrete streets of Brighton and Hove or die of pneumonia or get beaten up by a gang of drunken thugs?

To be honest, I understand that 'policies and procedures' have to be followed at New Steine Mews in the wake of incidents that take place, but I do sometimes wonder whether the implementation of these 'policies and procedures' are rather, shall we say, draconian. After all, if the staff at New Steine Mews are going to welcome Jason back in 10 weeks anyway, as is 'procedure' why don't they show Jason some forgiveness, compassion and 'tolerance' and let him back in?

What's the point in an empty warm room if Jason is out in the cold? What has modern Britain come to when a homeless hostel ran by the Council is, at least in part, responsible for causing homelessness in mid-winter? If you're going to do that, why not give him a short sharp shock and kick him out for one night, and then tell him to come back in the morning and discuss things more calmly when he's sober? At least then it would only be one night on the street, which has to be advantageous to 30-40 nights on the street in winter? It all seems a little as if the punishing penance imposed on the sinner is rather disproportionate to the offense. How many pissed up people who didn't live in homeless hostels on New Years Eve woke up the next morning only to be told to get out of their dwelling, take whatever they can grab and go and live on the street? I can tell you I had more than a few and it didn't happen to me.

Unless, of course, there is money in eviction for New Steine Mews or whatever third party may or may not (allegedly) own a third of it. I heard a rumour that every time a tenant is evicted a new tenant has to come in to replace them and that every time a new tenant comes in, as well as the proprietor receiving the housing benefit, they also receive a bigger lump sum in terms of a deposit. I expect rent for New Steine is about £150-£160 a week for that tiny little room of Jason's that I've seen, so the deposit might be around a grand. If what I heard is true, that would be a nice little earner for any proprietor with a stake in New Steine Mews, wouldn't it?

Tell you what. Instead of making Jason sleep outside with not even a sleeping bag this Christmas time, given that eventually you're going to let him back in because of 'procedure', why not just show a little bit of Christmas spirit and let him back in now...or have you rented his room out to someone new already?  In the liturgical season of the Catholic Church, it's Christmastide until the Feast of the Epiphany. Jason knows its Christmas, though I must say he irritated me so much I could have throttled him today. The cheeky blighter was trying to get a tenner out of me today and being filled with the spirit of Scrooge, I told him to p*ss off, but as for the staff of New Steine Mews, the question I want to know the answer to is...'Do they know its Christmas time at all'?