Three homeless people from Brighton and Hove are reported to have died after moving to Eastbourne, councillors were told yesterday (Wednesday 18 November).
Two were believed to have died from a drugs overdose and one of the deaths is a suspected suicide.
The deaths came to light as councillors discussed recently awarded government grants totalling almost £6.5 million to help Brighton and Hove City Council tackle rough sleeping and homelessness.
The challenges around helping hundreds of people have come into sharp focus since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the first national lockdown in the spring.
Yesterday the three deaths were mentioned as councillors touched on the “spot purchasing” of emergency and temporary housing in Eastbourne.
The council has placed more than 130 people there, prompting Caroline Ansell, the Conservative MP for Eastbourne, to raise the matter in the House of Commons last month.
Yesterday, Green councillor Alex Phillips told the council’s Housing Committee: “You could argue that those people may have died on the streets in Brighton but I am really concerned we are doing this.
“I know it is a last resort, but the consequences may be fatal for some individuals because of the lack of support structures they have in other areas.”
A senior council housing official Sylvia Peckham said that quite a few homeless people were now living outside Brighton and Hove because of the “sheer volume” in need of housing.
She said that welfare officers were visiting people in Eastbourne to ensure that they had the support that they needed.
After the meeting Councillor Phillips said that the council was trying to find better housing for many people and that some of them had complex needs and required “wraparound care”.
She said: “We should try to ensure that people who have links to Brighton stay in Brighton.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place. These aren’t easy decisions and they can have unintended consequences.
“It’s not just about four walls. We might think, ‘They’re housed. That’s it. Job done!’
“But it’s not always that simple.”
At the start of the pandemic the council booked hotel and guest house rooms for more than 300 homeless people – and later it paid for 222 rooms in university halls of residence.
But housing officials are trying to find “move on” housing and more permanent homes for as many rough sleepers as possible, many of whom need significant support.
Even with the extra cash from the government – more than any council outside London – officials have said that Brighton and Hove will have spent several millions of pounds more than budgeted.
Brighton and Hove is far from being the only council to place homeless people out of area – and it has previously had to wrestle with the consequences.
Two years ago Green councillor David Gibson – then in opposition – asked questions about homeless people placed in Kendal Court, Newhaven, after seven people there died in a relatively short period of time.
A report to councillors a few months later said that 31 people had died after being placed in housing by the council in the previous two years.
Many of those who had been sleeping rough had drink or drug problems or both. A number had been in care or suffered childhood abuse or other psychological trauma.
Some of those placed out area had a chance to escape exploitation, particularly from drug dealers who knew them, while others placed out of area had lost formal and informal support.
The challenges in Brighton and Hove have been added to, councillors were told yesterday, as several new homeless cases emerged each week.
Some were from elsewhere and were offered help “reconnecting” with their home area when possible while others were living in Brighton and Hove until they lost their home.
Common reasons included the break up of a relationship, being unable to pay their rent or moving out after “sofa surfing”.
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