I want to acknowledge the contribution of the hundreds of volunteers, community groups such as Off the Fence, Sussex Homeless Support and the Churches Network, various donors and fundraisers, and those in employment, who go over and above what is required, particularly at BHCC, BHT and St Mungo’s.
Over the past year, I have really started to research and understand in depth the rough sleeping problem that we have locally, and this began as Conservative representative on the three-councillor Brighton Centre Night Shelter Working Group.
It was here that I started learning the ropes, in the good company of Councillors Clare Moonan and David Gibson, and witnessed some phenomenal work from volunteers and council officers.
So while today is not an opportunity to vote on the council Rough Sleeping Strategy itself, I can’t in any good conscience do anything to embrace it at all. It’s clearly not working. So I won’t even be noting it. I feel that strongly against it.
I think that the right rough-sleeping strategy would be a much more unpopular document. Real battles need to be had if this problem is going to be solved. Quite frankly, I’d like to see the current document shredded and the existing managerial and facilitational approach scrapped.
There should be no “business as usual” in constructing such a paper. Writing it and releasing it would take real guts, some of which was exhibited by this council in introducing litter fines and public space protection orders.
Not tackling head-on street-drinking and begging is clearly bad for everyone. A loving approach to a person in need is not to allow them to sit on the street and drink themselves to death. None of us wants that. It hurts so many, including the retail and tourist industries which provide many of the funds and job opportunities that are required to tackle rough sleeping properly.
The same goes for allowing tents on busy streets. Any streets. The existing situation in Brighton and Hove is an avoidable national embarrassment and incredibly cruel towards those who need love, help and guidance.
Not speaking out strongly against middle-class drug users, who ultimately bring the drug dealers here, is a huge mistake as we have seen at The Level, in Brighton. Middle-class support for drugs is killing our most vulnerable. Middle-class drug facilitators need to be told this – the subject was broached by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick last month.
Not tackling head-on the funding of drug-dealers through what I think is a very selfish act of giving large amounts of cash to beggars is a tragedy. More guts are required to say this. It’s in the council’s Rough Sleeping Strategy update report but it’s in very small print.
If the only reason that we are not doing this forcefully is the emotional trauma that might be inflicted on those who are donating, then we really need to think about who we are protecting. Donations should go to grassroots charities. People donating who claim to care should do more.
Concentrating hostels and services in the city centre is a big mistake. It’s potentially a huge driver of the circle of deprivation. And I say this very much with the success stories of George Williams House and Emmaus in Portslade in mind. A rethink is required here.
If we truly care about the people sleeping rough on our streets, at most risk of violence and often lost to drink and drugs, it’s time for tough love not warm words.
Councillor Robert Nemeth is a Conservative member of Brighton and Hove City Council.