Yesterday saw the full council meeting in Brighton and Hove, in a bold move there was a motion submitted by Green Group Councillor Tom Druitt asking for council owned vacant buildings to be allowed to be opened for rough sleepers in the city.
Many councillors contributed to the passionate and sometimes embarrassing debate which saw members of the public in outcry at some of the political point scoring by certain councillors on an issue which quite frankly is not about politics, but people.
The amendment from Labour failed, although the amendment effectively waters down the motion and tried to keep this plan within the existing partnership.
It was recently reported that Brighton and Hove had a 100% increase in rough sleeping numbers in the city and with roughly 144 people sleeping rough on the streets last night, things need to change.
Empty Council Buildings To Be Available As Temporary Homeless Shelters: The Detail
That the Council requests the Policy, Resources & Growth Committee to commission and give consideration to an urgent report within the rough sleepers strategy framework that would enable the city council to:
- Investigate appropriate vacant City Council buildings to be made freely available for use such as temporary homeless shelters, to be run by community charity and voluntary organisations that are able and willing to do so;
- Publicises the availability of appropriate vacant City Council buildings to the voluntary and community sector, and calls for expressions of interest from the community to operate these spaces;
- Make preparations for this at the earliest possible time, given the onset of winter; and
- Sets Terms of Reference within the scope of the rough sleepers strategy for use of the spaces, Conditions of use and clearly details the arrangements for reclaiming possession of the relevant premises when circumstances require it.
Tom’s Tweet after getting the motion passed:
— Tom Druitt (@tomdruitt) January 26, 2017
Greens Want The Green light To Open Council Owned Buildings As Temporary Homeless Shelters
Tom Druitt opened his moving speech by saying:
This is a very very upsetting issue for many people in the city, I’ve brought this notice of motion to the city council not to make political points but to simply respond to the growing humanitarian crisis, right here on our pavements.
Tom went on to say:
I met with a number of homeless men and women outside the town hall, I was particularly moved by one of the stories from a young man I spoke with.
He was only in his 20’s and he’d moved to Brighton 10 years ago, studied at City College then went on to Brighton University and graduated with a degree in Art & Design. Unable to get work in his chosen field he worked in Kitchens in the cities hotels and then fell out of work and fell to a life on the streets.
He said that he feels like his life has been taken away from him.
Some In Labour Leave Empathy At The Door
Cllr Anne Meadows Chair Of Housing for the Labour and Co-operative Group then relied to Tom’s motion with an amendment as mentioned above, she started off by saying:
This is a really really serious issue, however….
Of course its political, its political when the conservative government cuts welfare payments, and its political when the green party who actually did nothing to help rough sleepers get off the streets when they were in administration, they encouraged us to be a protest city Mr Mayor.
The shocked gasps from the greens and public in the gallery could then be heard by the initial statement by Anne Meadows and is quite frankly an inappropriate response to a serious and positive motion, Anne really let the labour and co-operative group down yesterday.
She went on to say:
It is this Labour Council that is working with partners across the city, It is this Labour administration who is working with Rough Sleepers, It is this Labour Administration which is committed to tackling this issue.
Anne then went on to say that this motion would undo any hard work already undertaken on the councils rough sleepers strategy. I was confused by this defensive tactic which seemed to shrug off the rough sleeping issue we have, Anne does not seem to cope well to change based on this performance and sadly this cannot be our position on housing.
John Hadman an elderly Pensioner set up a petition which got 4000 signatures, he is one of the folk who want to help the city, this is a community project and it was sad this none of this was acknowledged.
Later on in the debate Cllr Clare Moonan retracted and said the group would support the motion, she said:
We are willing to listen to any initiative, any idea, i’ve always been someone who is willing to talk to anybody and any ideas that are out there to address this problem, we will listen and we will debate.
Clare admitted that the rough sleeping policy has only been going for 6 months and that they are learning and willing to listen to new ideas to tackle rough sleeping, things over time will start to have an impact she said.
Clare got a great response from the floor and public gallery and really showed the differences we have with councillors, so the motion passed and this will now go to a report back to policy, growth and resource committee.
What Lessons Can Be Learned
If I was Warren Morgan I’d be listening to people like me who are out there daily working with the vulnerable and homeless, we gave up our time over Christmas to help the needy and often reach out to councillors to educate them on the real realities.
We cannot have councillors who are simply to political and ridged, we are a democratic socialist party who have strong values around homelessness, housing and the social welfare state, we know the real costs to homelessness, poverty and addictions yet in our politics we fail to really show we care and understand.
If we are to go from a minority administration to a majority administration, we need to be bold and more empathetic to the real issues and come up with creative solutions to tackle this, this includes interacting with campaigners on the ground.
We should not be abusing our authority to sabotage community groups and activists attempts to improve the homelessness issues in Brighton and Hove, we should be recruiting and learning from them.
Tory Councillor Joe Miller spoke about the legislative failure by officers to apply the recent supreme court ruling which would effectively give all street homeless people a duty of care to be housed, yet we still have 144 people living rough. We as an administration should be listening to Joe who is studying housing law.
In conclusion this was an embarrassing performance on an issue which we should be leading the debate.