In a 2011 article the BBC reported that homelessness had nearly doubled in the last year. But what sparked this dramatic increase in figures? It has long been rumored that one of the main factors was a forced migration from London in preparation for the 2012 Olympics, yet the rumors have not been met with concrete evidence. Six years on and the City has a total of 178 rough sleepers that the council is aware of, as always the figure far outnumbers those recorded by officials.
After speaking with several locals located around London Road, a popular domain for the homeless community, it became apparent that whilst there had been no official Government scheme to move individuals, benefits of relocating had been promised. These included guaranteed hostel rooms, transport schemes and better medical attention.
A hostile environment was also created around the City of London, with Westminster having the highest homeless population in England, in order to force out those residing around London and the city centre. The period before the Olympics saw the implementation of spikes around buildings to prevent individuals from residing there.
An increased police presence and lockdowns on the underground system also resulted in many homeless people being moved along from the areas they felt comfortable in, and in some extreme cases, were incarcerated.
Speaking to one person about his experiences in London it was evident that to remain in London simply wasn’t an option. The climate surrounding homelessness changed dramatically for him after one of his friends was locked up on charges of public indecency that he claims were false. He said that, “it felt as though we were being forced out” due to the eyes of the world being turned on London.
Appearances became priority number one, need for care coming after.
Whilst official statements claimed an increased need for aid for the homeless population was called for, behind the scenes coercion became the unofficial initiative. Such claims have not been addressed by the government and continue to be dismissed as rumors, yet it was clear after speaking to several individuals that appearances became priority number one, need for care coming after.
This grossly incompetent approach has not been the only instance where the government has favoured appearance over substance. From the beast of the east to the blistering heat wave that scorched the country throughout summer, the homeless populations are the people suffering the worst from our unruly climate. As temperatures dropped in the cold months at the start of the year Street Link encouraged civilians to inform those sleeping rough on where they could find the closest shelters.
Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter saw a large increase in support for the charity, and it felt as though real action was being taken. But was it that simple? For many, the issue was not a lack of awareness of where they could receive help, but the facilities turning people in need away.
The implementation of the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) for Brighton was received as a positive step in the right direction. And yet many complained that the facility wasn’t accessible to them when they needed it most.
After approaching a man during heavy snowfall to notify him of the closest shelter, he asked me if I knew the exact temperature during tonight’s storm. Rather bemused I said it would be 1 degree Celsius for the entire evening, to which he responded that in order for him to be accepted into the shelter it must have been below freezing.
Whilst this is a common practice of shelters, the rule is too rigid to meet the need of individuals. The SWEP 2017 guide details that “Any conditions that increase the risk of harm to people sleeping rough can be classed as severe” weather, and yet individuals had been turned away at the point of need. The minor difference between temperatures closes when a person is on the brink of death.
Whilst the SWEP says that “a common sense approach should be taken – an occasional forecast above zero in a series of sub-zero nights or the impact of rain, snow and wind chill should be taken into account”, the shelters have not become more flexible.
The lack of government housing in Brighton has been an issue affecting the city for the last decade, and has been a cause of the sustained issue of homelessness throughout the area. Yet shelters have been attempting to meet the demand for beds in preparation for the coming cold months.
The charity St Mungo’s operates around the city, aiming to prevent individuals from sleeping rough two nights in a row. The charity provides accommodation in accordance with need, attempting to cater to individuals on a case-by-case basis.
In order for him to be accepted into the shelter it must have been below freezing.
Other shelters such as The Clock Tower Sanctuary helps homeless young people from the ages of 16 to 25, and Riverside Care and Support aims to help anyone from the ages of 18 to 65. The shelters rely heavily on volunteers to deal with the vast number of homeless residents, yet there is simply not enough space.
As rent prices increase throughout Brighton government funded social housing is depleting, making it harder for shelters such as these to exist. Such restrictions have many asking, when will real action be taken?