Empty council buildings could be used to shelter the homeless in Brighton and Hove after politicians from all parties backed a Green motion last night (Thursday 26 January).
Councillor Tom Druitt put forward the idea to fellow members of Brighton and Hove City Council during a meeting of the full council at Hove Town Hall.
He said that homelessness had doubled in a year and that the rise was the second highest in the country with 144 rough sleepers and sub-zero temperatures outside.
Councillor Druitt shared the story of a former City College student and Brighton University graduate who ended up on the streets after losing his job.
He said that he appreciated the pressure on the council’s finances but added that volunteers, charities and community groups would help so that empty properties could be used.
The motion – backed by the Greens, Tories and Labour – asked officials to prepare an urgent report.
It would look at ways of using empty council buildings “as temporary homeless shelters, to be run by community charity and voluntary organisations that are able and willing to do so”.
The aims would be to publicise “the availability of vacant city council buildings to the voluntary and community sector” and call for “expressions of interest from the community to operate these spaces”.
They would “make preparations for this at the earliest possible time, given the onset of winter” and would include “clear guidance … and assistance to all interested groups, particularly with navigating any regulatory requirements”.
The report would also help set out “terms of reference for use of the spaces, conditions of use and clearly detail the arrangements for reclaiming possession of the relevant premises when circumstances require it”.
Councillor Druitt said: “This is not asking the council to put huge resources into the project but to make available what it already has.”
There would be some work, he said, adding: “We can’t just open the doors, I accept that.”
Councillor David Gibson, a seasoned housing campaigner, seconded the motion.
In their supporting information, the Greens said: “There is an increased likelihood of premature deaths and exacerbation of health problems that impact upon those sleeping rough in Brighton and Hove which has been acknowledged in the Rough Sleeping Strategy which seeks to end rough sleeping by 2020.
“The recent publication of Brighton and Hove’s Homelessness figures estimate that around 144 people are sleeping rough in the city.
“This is a significant increase on the previous year and reports from local homelessness and housing charities show that this figure is likely to continue to rise, given changes to benefit caps, the rising cost of living and the crisis in affordable housing in Brighton and Hove.
“Recent media reports outline the need for more homelessness shelters in the city. Similar schemes have been introduced by local authorities in Manchester and Bristol.”
Afterwards Councillor Druitt said: “I’m so glad that this initiative was supported by all councillors and I hope we can get on with the job quickly and give shelter where it’s needed.
“I’m calling on residents and businesses to get involved too. These shelters will need money and volunteers if they are to work and it would be wonderful if we could extend the
scheme to empty shops and business premises too.”
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