By Claire Jacobs
A homeless man from Brighton has been placed in emergency housing in the same building where he was sent after being sexually abused as a child.
Daniel Harris, 32, was offered a room in Percival Terrace, Kemp Town, in January after spending three years homeless.
Mr Harris told councillors that he was housed in the same building when he was six years old after being sexually abused – something he explained to housing staff at Brighton and Hove City Council.
But despite this, he was told to take the room or remain homeless.
Mr Harris also told housing officers that the abuse had caused post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.
And he was concerned that these conditions could be further exacerbated if he was to return to the home where he was suffering nightmares and flashbacks about being abused.
Mr Harris shared his story with councillors when the council met last month as he presented a petition about the standard of emergency housing in Brighton and Hove.
Mr Harris said that the living standards in Percival Terrace were very poor while the cost of renting in the privately owned 60-room property was high.
His petition – signed by more than 1,500 people – called for the standards of emergency housing in the city to be improved.
The rent for a self-contained room at Percival Terrace, according to Mr Harris, is £28 a day. When council tax is added, his monthly outgoings are £900.
He said that it was possible to let better rooms for just £300 on a lodger basis.
Mr Harris said that “based on my calculations that’s £540,000 vulnerable people are paying to this landlord annually”.
He was housed in Percival Terrace when the council overturned a previous decision and agreed that he was in priority need of housing and they accepted a duty of care.
Mr Harris said that he felt “pushed into a decision which is unlawful and took advantage of my vulnerable position” to accept the room.
He had not wanted to move to Percival Terrace but felt that it was his only option other than face being homeless on the street.
He said: “I tried to commit suicide last year when everything got too much. I am in recovery and have a history of not eating well. This room only has a microwave. The bed is not fit to sleep in and the mattress is stained with what looks like urine.
“The ceiling is falling apart and I am now seriously doubting a way forward in my life. I simply cannot afford to pay those rates.
“I am not allowed visitors so am alone a lot. I was told I should feel privileged as most people get moved 30 miles away. My family have lived in this city for over 300 years.”
Mr Harris set up his “Homeless Hotels From Hell” petition and obtained 1,535 signatures.
The petition includes a ten-point plan to improve emergency housing and allocations. This includes giving vulnerable people a higher priority when in emergency housing to reduce the amount of time they could potentially have to stay in places such as Percival Terrace.
The petition also asks for more inspections of emergency housing to ensure living standards are at least acceptable. He said that there should be access to hot water, internet and kitchen equipment to cook nutritious meals rather than just microwaveable meals.
Mr Harris urged the council to bring emergency housing into public ownership to prevent private landlords from continuing to offer poor and inadequate housing at high rents.
At the meeting at Brighton Town Hall, Councillor Anne Meadows, who chairs the council’s Housing and New Homes Committee, agreed to visit his emergency housing herself. She said that regular inspections were carried out.
The council noted petition and referred it to the Housing and New Homes Committee which is due to meet on Wednesday 15 June.
The committee is expected to consider in particular Mr Harris’s request for more frequent inspections and the prospect of council-owned, low-cost emergency housing.
They also agreed to consider giving satisfaction surveys to people living in emergency housing, reviewing the “no visitors” rule and adopting a policy of using emergency accommodation only where a hot water supply is guaranteed.
Mr Harris said: “The petition went really well. I got a good response and will continue the pressure. I intend on setting up a residents’ committee for those in emergency housing and will be doing an art project about using creative medium to break down barriers.”
He is writing a blog about the petition and his campaign for better housing called the Survivor Blog.
To find out more about the art project visit the #HomelessART section of Daniel’s blog.