Empty buildings should be used for the homeless - Argus Friday 30th September 2016

Posted Monday 3rd October 2016   By Ericka Waller

SO Tents are popping up all over parks in Brighton. This is homeless problem. Needles are being found in parks. This is not a homeless problem. “Needles in the parks is not something that should be confused with rough sleeping. Drug use impacts on people of all classes, housed or homeless, but needles disposed of carelessly should be condemned by all, as they pose a danger to all, not least rough sleepers” as Andy Winter, executive of Brighton Housing Trust succinctly explained

To the people demanding the police move on the people sleeping rough in City parks… where do you expect them to go? I’m guessing your answer is ‘anywhere’ so long as you don’t have to see them, right? 

This out of sight, out of mind attitude is simply handing the problem onto someone else. Homelessness seems to be a buck we keeping passing down the line. Who does it stop with in the end?

I spent Friday evening sitting next to John who ‘lives’ in the Laines opposite 'Ring' Jewellers. He was engrossed in a book as I passed. I had no change on me, all I could offer was a hello. Half an hour later, my husband and I were sat down either side of him chatting away like old friends.

I am not going to waste this article trying to explain how you get treated the second you sit down in the middle of the street, or what it feels like for conversations to be held inches from your feet.  

You can only learn by doing. As the Song ‘Sit Down’ by James says “Oh sit down, oh sit down, sit down next to me… those who feel the breath of sadness, those who find they're touched by madness, those who find themselves ridiculous, sit down next to me”

John was in a car crash years ago. His spine has slipped onto his hips. He cannot turn his head. He needs an operation on his spine, but he cannot have one because he will need somewhere to rehabilitate, while he learns to walk again Instead he limps slowly to Hove each night to find shelter in a secluded car park, where it is safe enough to sleep.

How can we help these people? Tossing ‘get a job’ over your shoulder as you pass does nothing. Even money in their caps will only do so much. They need a shelter, a safe place, a program to help them re-enter a society that let them down.

This week I was running along the undercliff. When I reached the Saltdean wall the dog started barking like mad. Suddenly, a man climbed over the rocks from the sea. He’d taken shelter in a cove the night before, fallen asleep then been washed out by the tide. He almost drowned, and all his stuff had been taken by the waves. 

I called my husband and we took him home, made him coffee and breakfast. We put him in a scolding hot shower, then gave him a set of warm dry clothes. 

I like to believe anyone would have done what I did. What else was there to do? Honestly, yes I was a bit scared when he first approached, but that's never stopped me doing anything so far in life.

It’s getting colder, and wetter. We are digging out rainwear and winter coats. The logs are stacked by the fire.  Meanwhile, John will carry on sitting where he sits, wearing the only clothes he has, and boys will sleep on coves on the beach.

Last week the school managed to gather hundreds of tins of food for the elderly.  Why can’t we collect for the homeless?

The city belongs to them as much as it belongs to us who have homes. 

Brighton council make so much money from the tourists who come to trash our town and mock our street people. 

Why can’t the council open one of our many derelict buildings for them? It would stop the ‘eyesore’ of people in poverty hanging like tatty bunting around the City, and it would give people, people in desperate need, somewhere to go and be safe for the night.

And finally

The giant Snow dogs placed round the City have been vandalised. The sculptures decorated by artists were made to raise funds for terminally ill patients, when they go to auction later. Two of them have already been covered in graffiti, twice.

The lack of originality is as depressing as the predictability it would happen. If people are going to attempt to destroy the Snow Dogs so the Marlets can’t raise money to help people dying of cancer, they could at least come up with something more shocking than ‘I was ere’ on daubed on the side in a black felt tip.

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