Labour and the Greens’ proposal for a city-wide Homeless Bill of Rights would do little to help the homeless and instead put the council in direct conflict with Sussex Police.
This policy would provide a right to beg across every geographical part of Brighton and Hove while also making it harder for council officers to remove tents from parks and other council recreation and play areas.
The policy was endorsed by Labour and the Greens at the Housing Committee on Wednesday (17 March) and a final vote on whether to adopt the charter will take place at next week’s full council meeting.
The full proposal can be found starting on page 113 of the council agenda.
The Conservatives are speaking out ahead of this meeting – as the only party providing opposition in the housing portfolio where Labour and the Greens have a coalition arrangement – to try and stop our City making another policy mistake.
Begging in the city
The Homeless Bill of Rights has been brought forward by the Housing Coalition in the city and we understand their aspirations to help the homeless.
But as Andy Winter, of Brighton Housing Trust, recently said, begging in our city has nothing to do with homelessness and everything to do with addiction. This is something that Labour and the Greens don’t seem to understand.
The pandemic has thrown the city’s begging problem into sharp focus over the past 12 months and the experience locally has largely confirmed what Mr Winter has been saying.
While the council, through £6.4 million in government funding, has been able to offer hotel accommodation and food to all homeless people for more than a year now, residents have reported that begging on the streets has continued and residents have faced aggressive begging in some places.
By asking for begging to be decriminalised and enshrining a right to beg in all parts of Brighton and Hove, Labour and the Greens would put our city in direct contradiction with the law.
This would put our local police and PSCOs in an impossible position.
Is that the message our council wants to send to the police force – that we are not supporting them?
Tents in parks and playgrounds
The Bill of Rights includes the right to rest in public places including public parks and says that tents should not in future be removed by public servants without compelling need.
This will cause great concern to residents in the city who are frustrated at the time it takes the council to act on tents as it is.
As was reported by Brighton and Hove News last year, it took weeks for the council to do anything about the tents in Old Steine, where residents had to put up with drinking, fighting and defecating on a daily basis.
I can only imagine how long it will take to get the council do anything in the future if there is a Bill of Rights that stops council officers removing tents.
It would create a highly confusing policy and create a policy difference between the city and the police.
The city council would end up in conflict with policing policies and our police and PCSOs would face an impossible task.
The council would be much better spending its time on delivering practical action to help people off the streets, for example, by looking at implementing a city-wide cashless donation scheme to ensure that help from the public goes directly to help people overcome their addictions.
The Bill of Rights policy will only put up another barrier up to helping people beat their addictions and move away from a miserable life of begging on the streets of Brighton and Hove.
It needs much more careful consideration to address the aspirations within the homeless Bill of Rights while being mindful that we cannot as a council be in conflict with the police.
Councillor Mary Mears is deputy leader of the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council.