Last week I stuck my head above the parapet (writes Annemarie Field) and urged people in Eastbourne to think before they give cash to rough sleepers on the streets of Eastbourne because – in my opinion – such generosity could possibly be helping to keep someone on the streets as opposed to helping them get off the streets.
My comments that there are professional beggars – who actually have somewhere to live – earning up to £100 a day in the town centre sparked huge controversy.
But Eastbourne Police says they are targeting efforts to disrupt the activities of some people on the streets in the town centre who present as homeless but do have accommodation.
That aside, among the many views expressed was concern about what is being done to help genuinely homeless people sleeping rough in doorways and what support is available to them.
According to Eastbourne Borough Council figures, a recent survey revealed there were 19 rough sleepers compared to 11 the previous year.
And like it or not, that doesn’t mean the council has a responsibility to house them.
It is important to point out that sleeping rough does not provide an automatic priority need.
While anyone with a housing enquiry or issue can present to the council for advice, all local authorities must work within the parameters which dictate certain housing duties the council must fulfil and powers they can exercise for homeless households.
A council spokesperson said this week, “The council is working to deliver innovative solutions to tackle homelessness and the issue of rough sleeping.
“Together, we have recently been successful in bidding for an additional £470,000 of Government funds to develop further services and resources to tackle some of the fundamental causes of why people sleep rough.
“The council’s Neighbourhood First Team and Homeless Advice service regularly undertake an early morning search for anyone sleeping rough in Eastbourne and offer advice and signposting to anyone who requests help – this includes referring to drug and alcohol support services and the offer to come into 1 Grove Road for advice, help and support.
“The council also responds to any referrals made by a member of the public reporting a rough sleeper and if they are able to find them will make a visit to that person.
“Working in partnership with Sussex Police, Neighbourhood First officers frequently advise rough sleepers in the town centre to move on and seek help from the raft of support services that exist in the town.”
One such support service is the Winter Night Shelter for homeless and vulnerable people which operates in church halls across Eastbourne seven days a week during December, January and February.
David Barrett is a trustee at the Kingdom Way Trust, which operates the shelter.
“Our hope is that many of our guests will use the stability of the night shelter to address their longer term accommodation needs,” said David. “This has proven to be a positive outcome for many night shelter guests over the six years we have been operating.”
But the causes of homelessness are complex and varied and not everyone wants to use the shelter.
“People find themselves on the streets through very different and harrowing circumstances,” added David.
“Their stories often include long-term rejection and damaged childhoods that may result in early addictions to drugs and alcohol.
“Relationship breakdown, redundancy, debt, exploitation and abuse of all kinds are just some of the problems that can cause homelessness.
“Clearly, we need to tackle the root causes of the problem and not just apply a sticking plaster solution, which the temporary winter night shelter can only be.
“Our collaboration with other agencies is vital in providing a holistic response.
“Many homeless people in our community suffer greatly and daily from a lack of adequate resources to address their mental health issues.
“They are often simply left to fend for themselves.
“Sadly, the night shelter is an inappropriate place for many of them.
“The provision of the night shelter in Eastbourne does bring respite and relief during the coldest winter months for many individuals and offers a vital service for up to 15 guests per night.”
The Salvation Army in Langney Road and Matthew 25 Mission at Christ Church are also at the forefront of helping the homeless and both run day centres where homeless and vulnerable people can get food, warmth, clothes, showers and food.
Graham Horsnell, at Matthew 25 Mission, said, “Apart from those in Eastbourne’s temporary winter night shelter we know there are some 18-25 others sleeping rough around the town at present.
“There is no doubt some of those we see sitting in the doorways have chosen that lifestyle because it is their best if not only means of attracting income.
“However, please also bear in mind that Friday night and the early hours of Saturday morning a week ago, there were 12 people found sleeping rough in our town centre. Others were to be found at various points along the seafront and elsewhere.”
Sussex Police is also aware of the issues and says it too has a role to play.
Chief Inspector Emma Brice at Eastbourne said, “Police officers have a duty to reduce crime and disorder but also to protect the most vulnerable. “We know from experience that rough sleepers and members of the street community are extremely vulnerable, often with complex needs.
“The local policing team works closely with our partners to ensure that those who need it get access to the treatment and support from a number of statutory and voluntary organisations in Eastbourne.
“We rarely criminalise people for begging, and will try a whole host of options before taking such punitive enforcement action.
“We also recognise that some people seen on streets, particularly in the town centre who present as homeless, do have accommodation and we will target our efforts to disrupt their activities.”
At a recent meeting the homeless and issue of street drinkers was declared a priority for the partnership of the multi-agency Joint Action Group and an operational working group established to deal directly with the problems.
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