Walking through the town centre, it’s become normal to see at least one person living on the streets, perhaps sitting in the doorway of a shop, sometimes asking for spare change.
Many people don’t know how to react – some will ignore the person, few will acknowledge them. We seem collectively ashamed and as a society incapable of finding a solution which, in the 21st Century, just seems wrong.
Figures show homelessness in Eastbourne quadrupled in two years from 2015 to 2017.
In a major report released this week, Eastbourne Citizens Advice (CA) explores the causes of homelessness, the challenges people face getting back into stable accommodation, and recommends a number of ways to tackle an issue which is becoming more and more prolific.
A year in the making, the wide-ranging report concludes the town needs a hostel to support people as it is becoming ‘increasingly easy to become homeless’.
But what is it like to be homeless?
We spoke to Richard Riedel about his experiences being street homeless in Eastbourne.
The 39-year-old is a qualified structural engineer but fell on hard times. Richard had a job and flat in Essex but was forced to give that up and ended up in Eastbourne sleeping on a seafront bench.
He said, “I got judgemental looks all the time. It’s a look of disgust. But it’s ignorance, they think ‘here’s another homeless bum’. I may have been guilty of it in the past myself.
“I have worked all my life, I’m fully qualified, I work hard. You don’t realise until you are put in this position, it’s not through choice. My friend’s wife died and he turned to drink. You can completely understand it.
“They just think you are lazy and don’t want to go to work. It’s not the case.”
But he said some people are nice, like Absolute Angels, “Matthew 25 has been outstanding. It’s been a godsend, I can’t imagine what position I would be in if it wasn’t for this place. The volunteers are amazing.”
He said the charity supplies food and a much-needed place to charge his mobile phone, and it’s something to do during the day.
Now living in a tent provided by the charity, Richard says the council will not help him as he has not been here long enough – despite originally coming from East Sussex.
“It seems to me there’s no help for people. You are kept in this cycle where you can’t do anything, you are stuck. A lot of the time people don’t help themselves because they drink – but you can understand why. You can easily find yourself in this position.”
A hostel is one of the things the Citizens Advice report recommends, and Richards believes this would be a good idea.
He said, “People need a place where they can have enough time to get back on their feet, have an address to get paperwork sent to. When people lose everything a lot of the time they don’t have ID so can’t open a bank account.
“Somewhere you can maintain dignity. Shower, and have a roof over your head, and get back on the right track. It’s that initial helping hand.
“Surely that would, regardless of the cost, save more money. There would be less crime, violence, costs to the NHS over drinking problems. Then people would be paying taxes again, putting back into the system.”
The facts featured in the Citizens Advice report:
• Less than one per cent of properties being advertised to let would have the full rent covered by the Local Housing Allowance, Citizens Advice has found. It says stories in the national press about long delays in payments of Universal Credit have made more landlords unwilling to rent to people on benefits.
• More than half the homeless people known by local agencies were from Eastbourne originally, while a high proportion had no previous connection to the town.
• The majority were men but there has been an increase in women seeking help – many vulnerable and fleeing domestic abuse.
• MP Stephen Lloyd says there are more than 150 families who are registered as homeless and living in temporary accommodation in Eastbourne.
To view Citizen’s Advice’s full report on homelessness, visit www.eastbournecab.co.uk