Brighton’s first open-all-weather winter night shelter for rough sleepers is to close on Saturday after providing a home of sorts for up to 30 people over the last three months.
The shelter opened at the end of last year at a room in the Brighton Centre, with places allocated to rough sleepers by the council’s outreach homelessness service, run by St Mungo’s.
The centre proved a “godsend” for some of the 30-50 people who end up on the city’s streets every week, and was part of a range of council services which have helped a reported 2,000 homeless people into accommodation in the last year.
It was intended to only open for the winter when first announced – but some homelessness activists are calling on the council to find ways to get it to stay open for longer.
However, the city council says it has no plans to do so, but will look at its experiences running over the past few weeks to improve on what it can offer next winter.
Cllr Moonan (Labour), Cllr Nemeth (Conservative) and Cllr Gibson (Green) led on setting up the shelter when it was initially agreed with cross party support last year.
The councillors explained: “We’ll use all the experience we’ve gained from the shelter at the Brighton Centre to improve on what we do in the future.
“We’re dedicated to helping all those sleeping rough in the city and the winter shelter was a new way to add to the support available in Brighton & Hove. The shelter has been greatly appreciated by those who’ve stayed there; it’s made a huge difference to some of the most vulnerable people in our city this winter.
“The commitment and professionalism of the shelter’s staff and volunteers is rightly recognised as the main factor in helping people staying overnight to feel safe and secure. Many people have moved on and away from the streets as a result of this approach.
“We’re aware the weather can be very cold at this time of year. A separate shelter service runs all year round to make sure no one has to stay out when the weather is extreme. The severe weather shelter, known as SWEP, is available for all who need it. If the weather is very cold, the SWEP will be available to anyone leaving the winter night shelter if they want to go there.”
The council said the winter shelter has been very well received by people staying there, with initial feedback from users including: “It’s a godsend to homeless and vulnerable people”, “The best thing was the genuine kindness of the staff and security and volunteers and the warm heating because I hate the cold” and “I am safe and warm.”
One volunteer also commented: “Watching the clients improve in health, mood and socialisation shows what can be achieved in relatively short time.”
Recently at Budget Council, councillors approved £165,000 to support rough sleeping initiatives in the year ahead.
Once the winter night shelter is closed, a full evaluation of the venture will be carried out. This will be used to shape future provision plans.
Looking ahead, one of the initial tasks will be to look into options for a suitable location for a shelter next winter. Prior bookings at the Brighton Centre meant the shelter had to move for two short breaks during this winter. Both time St Martin’s Church on Lewes Road stepped in to cover the days when the Brighton Centre was not available.
Despite the good facilities at St Martin’s Church, the move in location proved disruptive for people staying at the shelter. The organisations managing the Brighton Centre night shelter have identified that a future venue would need to be available without interruption, be in a central location, provide two large rooms and a kitchen area.
The council says future support is not confined to repeating the night shelter option. A range of support will be explored to decide how best to tackle the ongoing and serious situation facing rough sleepers in our city.