The Brighton Centre is to open its doors to the homeless this winter as part of a council scheme to use empty buildings to house rough sleepers.
A large room in the council-owned building is currently being prepared to be used a shelter for up to 30 people. It’s currently due to open on 10 December, but officers hope it can be used sooner.
The funding for the venture was agreed by councillors earlier this year. Since then, councillors from the three parties on the council have been working together to find a suitable venue.
The announcement today comes after much in-depth research by councillors and officers to find an available space which is suitable for adaption to a safe environment for people to stay overnight. After looking at empty properties and not finding a safe place, the search turned to operational buildings with space available.
Cllr Moonan, Labour councillor and lead councillor for rough sleeping, Cllr Robert Nemeth, Conservative, and Cllr David Gibson, Green, have been meeting regularly to organise the plans for the shelter.
In a joint statement, they said: “There is a national crisis in the number of people facing the risk of homelessness and we’re united in trying to find ways to help those in need here in our city.
“This shelter will help many rough sleepers to sleep at night and provide a safe place to go as the temperatures drop.
“We know residents in the city are rightly concerned about people living rough, especially at this time of year when the weather can be extreme. The shelter is one of many ways we are providing help and working with partners to keep people safe and warm this winter.
“People living rough on the streets are at high risk, vulnerable and need help. The average life expectancy of a man sleeping rough is just 47 years old – that’s a shocking fact we are addressing here in Brighton & Hove.”
However, the delay in finding a suitable building to use as a shelter was criticised by Cllr Tom Druit, who first proposed the idea ten months ago.
He said: “It’s great news that after many months of hard work, public support and campaigning the council will finally get to work on the proposals to use council buildings to provide more homeless shelters.
“However it should not have taken ten months to get this far and I’m concerned that the council doesn’t seem to be treating the issue with the urgency it requires.
“We need to make sure at the very least that this new shelter is open before the beginning of December and that this winter no one has to sleep rough against their will.
“With many vacant buildings still dotted around the city whilst people are forced to sleep in doorways we must push to put vacant premises to good use.”
The places at the shelter will be allocated from referrals by outreach workers from St Mungo’s and BHT (Brighton Housing Trust). The outreach workers will also offer support to those staying at the shelter, linking them to services and sources of support across Brighton and Hove.
The dates the shelter will operate are 10 December to 11 February. No confirmed bookings at the Brighton Centre will be affected by the plans. Work is ongoing to find a suitable place for the shelter to run through to March 2018.
The location of the shelter is close to key support services where residents can go for facilities, such as showers, meals and help for their longer term needs.
From this point, the building is being prepared and people eligible for places will be contacted by outreach workers in the weeks ahead. Anyone concerned about a rough sleeper should contact Streetlink who will share information with outreach workers.
Local agencies work together to help more than 1,500 people every year. People are helped to find accommodation elsewhere or linked back with friends or family for support where appropriate. Nationally the numbers of people rough sleeping is on the rise and this is reflected in our city as well as many other streets across the country.
It can take time to find suitable accommodation and move people away from a life on the streets. Many people sleeping rough on our streets have complex needs, often relating to substance misuse and mental health issues connected with their vulnerability.
The council works with partners across the city to help provide a range of support and services for rough sleepers, looking at ways to improve their circumstances for the better.
This new shelter adds to the help available in the city from charities and churches providing a place to go at night.
The shelter premises are available on a short term basis and further provision is being sought with the aim of helping more people in future.