“An astounding one in 60 of the local community are now without permanent housing, with only London facing a worse crisis, and these numbers are only increasing.”
Hurrying past a rough sleeper with your head down offers little to solve the growing problem of homelessness in Brighton & Hove. An astounding one in 60 of the local community are now without permanent housing, with only London facing a worse crisis, and these numbers are only increasing. The average life-span for rough sleepers is 42 for women and 47 for men, generally due to violence, health issues or substance abuse. In return, the homeless are too often treated with contempt or suspicion. There’s no simple solution, just a lengthy series of small steps. “The people you see on the streets is the tip of the iceberg,” Clock Tower Sanctuary’s Natalia Borg tells me. “Underneath you have a whole host of vulnerable people. The hidden homeless.” These are people surviving in supported accommodation, drifting between friend’s sofa, or sleeping rough but hidden away, so not covered by official counts.
Established in 1998, the Clock Tower Sanctuary aims to catch young people who’ve fallen through the net, helping them reconnect and providing the support they need. No young person chooses homelessness. They might not even ‘look homeless’. All want to have bright futures, work and raise families. “You might walk through Western Road and see five of our clients. They’re not necessarily the ones sleeping on the street, they’re just passing you. They want to look presentable. It’s almost like they’re invisible.” The only day centre of its kind in the city, Clock Tower Sanctuary opens six days a week to offer support to homeless young people, and prevent them from becoming part of the long- term population.
Working in partnership with a large range of other organisations, they provide a vital support network to help those in difficult practical circumstances negotiate a complex system. The organisation is funded entirely by donations, and trusts like Comic Relief and The Big Lottery. Individuals also contribute by undertaking charity challenges or organising fundraising events. There’s a constant need for volunteers, something which can be a great opportunity to start careers in this sector or help people in greater need. “We’re looking to people to become befrienders and help us run our drop-in service so that each young person has the support they need. Just to make sure they have the future they deserve, and not in a sleeping bag on West Street in ten years.” The simple fact is: the longer you’re homeless the greater the chance of being swept into a destructive cycle.
There’s no definitive reason as to why people find themselves without a stable place to live. Often, it’s the result of relationship breakdowns. Others can feed into the system after living in care or escaping domestic abuse. Regardless, Brighton & Hove has a housing crisis. Alongside a lack of suitable housing, the cost of available stock is one of the highest outside of London, outstripping the average salary. For young people, the impact of welfare reforms, particularly the bureaucratic chaos of Universal Credit, is making it even more difficult to find a suitable home. “There’s a longer delay in getting the income,” Natalia tells me. “In that time, younger people don’t have savings, so they can quickly get into financial debt and be more vulnerable to, say, the sex industry.” While this new welfare system broadly works, she says many of the centre’s clients may not have the range of the basic life skills generally taught by parents. Things like financial management, understanding benefits, dealing with letters and knowing what to do. Before, housing payments would be paid directly to landlords. Now a lump sum is paid directly to the client, which they are responsible for. On top of this sits the anxiety of being homeless, along with any accompanying problems such as relationship issues, mental health or addiction.
Clock Tower recognise that their clients often just need simple help and advice to turn things around. So, they offer guidance on managing budgets, the use of a telephone, a postal address, access to the internet, accredited courses, laundry facilities, and most importantly a safe space to visit. Modern life is increasingly complex. You need the internet to get most jobs. You need photo ID and residential address to open a bank account or access many services. For clients with more complex needs, help can involve obtaining mental health diagnoses, managing medication, therapeutic intervention and assistance with returning to education. “There’s no quick fix. It’s making the small changes, and recognising that if you take a few steps back, that’s OK. You’re always going to be moving forward, and we’re going to help you do that.” Repeatedly, it’s a case of helping a client reclaim their confidence and motivation, but everyone is different.
Forecasts suggest it’s going to be challenging for the homeless and the charities supporting them. Brighton & Hove has seen large cuts to Youth and social care services, and it’s increasingly difficult for young people to access help with addiction, mental health or returning to education and training. Natalia’s organisation is preparing for a continued influx of young people. More young people are entering homelessness, and Clock Tower are having to put a lot of resources into helping people in the early stages of crisis. “Every young person has their own journey out of homelessness. Just getting them into work and a key to a door is one part of the story, but a bigger part is supporting them so it’s sustainable.”
For information on Clock Tower Sanctuary’s work, how you can donate, or even volunteer, head over to: www. thects.org.uk
Words by: Stuart Rolt