I woke up around 3.30am last Saturday feeling the cold wind and light rain on my head – I was momentarily confused and wondering what the hell was going on writes Andy Batsford.
Then I remembered I was sleeping in a cardboard box on Hastings seafront – as you do in September!
I was taking part in The Big Sleep, the annual charity event that the Seaview Project arranges every year to raise much needed funds for the rough sleeping support work it provides.
This year I joined our incredible Mayor Nigel Sinden and Councillor Leah Levane, as well as loads of other brave and well meaning people, sleeping rough for one night to not only bring in that much needed cash to Seaview but to highlight the real human issue of homelessness in our town.
I know that a sanitised well organised charity event where we sleep out for one night and are lucky enough to go home the next day can never represent what it is really like to sleep rough every night, but I was knackered the next day after one night of uncomfortable sleeping, I could only imagine what the mental strain is on someone who has to do that night after night, carrying your home with you, not knowing what the day and night will bring, the fear of being attacked or told to move on day after day.
The impact on you and your very being must be devastating physically and mentally.
The back drop for the Big Sleep 2019 is one of the worst homelessness crises, this country has faced in generations
Then of course while you are in that state you must keep up your appointments for universal credit or job hunting or you will be sanctioned and the tiny amount of money you have to sustain yourself on the streets will just stop for weeks if not months.
It takes someone only three months of rough sleeping to become mentally and physically entrenched on the streets.
You discover you’re not thinking right, your capacity to motivate yourself is at an all-time low, the other people you are living rough on the streets with become your support and safety net pulling you deeper into a lifestyle that is eating away at the person you used to be. Then you slowly slip into survival mode, maybe using alcohol or drugs to block out fear and emotion.
This is the reality of over 47 of our fellow residents in Hastings every night on the streets of our town.
We all see it, we all have our gut feelings of either sadness, pity, anger or fear for those sleeping rough outside door ways, in our parks or in the shelters on the beach.
We all have our own feelings but we all have a responsibility too, as a collective, to help support and try to ensure that our fellow human beings do not fall so far that the option of sleeping rough seems the only one left for them to take.
The back drop for the Big Sleep 2019 is one of the worst homelessness crises this country has faced in generations.
Hundreds of people in East Sussex are sleeping on our streets because the safety net that held them, supported families and provided timely help has been stripped away.
Funding for local councils, adult social services, children services, youth services have all been cut to the bone. Those that are sleeping rough are just the tip of the iceberg with thousands of families and residents in temporary accommodation due to sky-rocketing rents and wages stagnating as well as housing benefit only covering 60 per cent of the average rent for a home.
This is a man-made crisis! A politically driven one. And one that shows no compassion, care for the fellow citizen and importantly shows no understanding that if you chop at the bottom of a tree, take away its roots, water and food the tree falls.
You are not saving money, you’re destroying lives, the fabric of a good society and ultimately this stuff comes back and bites you hard.
The Government are now throwing money at this terrible issue of homelessness, a monster of its own creation, like a rich man throwing a few gold coins at peasants after he has taken their land away.
It sickens me to see the incredible work that was done all those years – ago when Hastings, in the early 2000s, had on average two or three rough sleepers on the streets – ideologically destroyed. Those individuals at the very bottom of the ladder are being left to lay on cold wet floors so this Government can claim some sort of good housekeeping award for spending less so we can pay off the debt we all owe due to baling out the bankers and investors when they crashed the economy.
So what can be done?
Hastings Borough Council has a range of support projects and schemes to help and support those who are at risk of being homeless, or who are already homeless, they are funded on a year by year basis at the moment by central government which means we never know what the financial settlement is going to be when we look to plan long term, our commitment to those residents falling on hard times.
We work alongside some great partners such as Seaview to provide the best wrap around services and Hastings is seen as a town of good practice around multi agency work and collaboration.
We have a good and robust homelessness strategy which is currently out for public consultation and I would urge everyone to take time to read it and offer their thoughts and ideas.
The underlying issue is we don’t have enough housing fit for purpose – secure and affordable homes for us all.
We need to embrace this challenge in Hastings and welcome good quality developments to provide those homes. I know every housing development impacts on those who live nearby, but we have all got to shoulder the responsibility and welcome new local families and neighbours in to our communities.
A town with a secure base is one that thrives and moves forward together. If we dig in and oppose new homes being built, we make our whole town poorer and that impacts on all of us and on our children’s futures.
A child living in expensive, insecure, poor-quality housing cannot get on in life, study and grow up mentally strong and ready to contribute to the future of our town. So, when you see our fellow citizens sleeping rough on the streets be part of the solution, bring positive ideas and innovation to the discussion we need real homes for all to help address what is a generational scandal of housing and homelessness.
Where to find the council’s strategy document
To take a look at HBC’s homelessnes strategy got to the website https://www.hastings.gov.uk/my-council/consultations/draft-homelessness-strategy/
The consultation runs until October 25th. People can comment by emailing email@example.com
The strategy has three priority areas:
- To reduce rough sleeping
- To minimise the use of emergency accommodation, by improving access to housing solutions and,
- To adapt their services to meet local needs
The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy is the first of three documents which will make up the council’s overall housing strategy. They will be producing similar strategies to increase the supply of housing and to improve the quality of homes and neighbourhoods.