Brighton Homeless Campaigners want ‘Greater Transparency and Better Communication with SWEP.’
Brighton Homeless has generous opening criteria for SWEP. However, if people don’t know about it or can’t get to it, that makes no difference. David Thomas for the Housing Coalition asked a supplementary question at the last Housing Committee on 18thNovember, as follows:
“Homeless Link national guidance on the operation of SWEP says: ‘Simple and effective communication is essential. If SWEP is going to open, this information needs to be shared quickly and as widely as possible, for example via the website and social media channels of the local authority and partners’ …
In Brighton and Hove we have a large network of concerned community organisations, including our own SHS and many others. In the past information has been put out to and through this network. Will you ensure that information gets out to the community as early as possible in the future?”
The Assistant Director of Housing, Martin Reid, said that he would come back to answer this. His eventual reply, so far as relevant, was as follows:
“Our street outreach partners St Mungo’s are currently working in the city seven days a week to engage with everyone rough sleeping to help support them into safe accommodation.
Some people with complex needs can find it difficult to move from the streets, and we are aware there are around 30 people currently sleeping rough in the city.
When SWEP is triggered, St Mungo’s Street Outreach Service will go out seeking the people we know to be rough sleeping during the day to find them self-contained warm accommodation. Anyone not accommodated during the day will be referred into self-contained accommodation in our newly-commissioned council-run SWEP venue by the street outreach service.
For these reasons, we will not be publicly announcing when SWEP is triggered this winter. We have also found the wider publicity has increased the inflow of rough sleepers in to the city from elsewhere, placing greater pressure on the service and restricting our ability to support homeless people with a local connection to Brighton & Hove.
If a member of the public sees someone rough sleeping, please report them via the Streetlink website or by calling 0300 500 0914 and our outreach team will seek to accommodate them.”
The Streetlink service promises a response within 48 hours and cannot provide an emergency service. This is Secret SWEP. The reason given (for which there is no evidence; the only study undertaken says that the quality of homeless services is not a significant factor in homeless people coming to Brighton and Hove) would prevent any improvement in homeless services whatsoever. It is also in defiance of the national guidance for this year.
The council repeated essentially the same facts in a press release on 10thDecember.
“Picture the Change” by Homeless Link/CAIERS, 2015; we can provide a copy to any interested.
Brighton Homeless Campaigners Deputation on Homelessness
At next weeks full council Jim Deans from Sussex Homeless Support Brighton, a local charity helping to relieve poverty for the cities rough sleepers, including the wider homeless community will present the following Deputation on Homelessness to elected councillors / Brighton and Hove City Council.
Brighton Homeless Campaigners Via Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition
This deputation concerns two groups of homeless people in Brighton & Hove. In this cold winter in the middle of the pandemic, this council has decided that although it has helped these two groups in the past it is now no longer prepared to do so.
The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP)
The Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, or SWEP, is what every local authority has to do to provide shelter to rough sleepers, anyone at all, when the weather is bad. In this city we have generous criteria for opening SWEP.
Last year, when it was open, it was announced on the council’s website and emails were sent to community groups, and everyone knew that you could go down to the shelter at Brighton Town Hall between 7 and 10pm and get shelter and something to eat, and people could tell the rough sleepers they knew that it was open.
This year there is the pandemic, and so arrangements have to be different to be covid-safe. Despite the “everyone in” programme, there are still many rough sleepers, and more every day – the council estimates 30. But also – and this has nothing to do with any pandemic – it is secret.
This year we have Secret SWEP. It is not announced on the website when it is open, we don’t know where it is, and the community groups are not being told anything.
St Mungo’s outreach workers, we are told, will contact the people they know about and tell them. We know this is not reaching everybody. On Monday morning 7thDecember, when the triggers were met and it was miserably cold, Jim Deans had two men waiting for him at his office in the morning who had used SWEP last year and would have used it this year, but who had no idea it was open.
The only reason given for this is that if people knew it was open they might arrive from outside Brighton. That is not good enough, it is a disgrace.
No recourse to public funds (NRPF)
In March this year in the first wave of the pandemic the government asked local authorities to “bring everyone in”, to offer accommodation to everyone who was homeless. There are some people living here who have “no recourse to public funds”, NRPF; they are people with limited leave to remain, or none, who are not normally entitled to help unless they have children or serious care needs.
The government said these should be accommodated too, but they wouldn’t change the NRPF rules, despite many people including this Council asking them to, so the council had to pay the full cost for this group under their emergency public health powers.
Nevertheless, the city has looked after this group through the pandemic so far, and that was the position when the administration changed from Labour to the Green party. However, in the last few weeks, this council has decided that they will not be helped any more.
Here are two groups of homeless people who need help this cold and wet winter; rough sleepers who St Mungo’s can’t reach, and people with NRPF who have no other resource. We call on the council to reverse its policies, to let the community know when and where SWEP is open so that we can help people who need it to get shelter, and to make “everyone in” so that it includes absolutely everyone in this City of Sanctuary.Brighton Homeless Campaigns: Deputation On Homelessness
People with No Recourse to Public Funds: The Detail
NRPF are people with limited leave to remain in this country, such as international students, and people who have fallen foul of our immigration system – overstayers, people brought here as children who can’t prove their status, people refused asylum who are pursuing appeals.
As part of the Hostile Environment, the government bars them from benefits and housing help. If they become homeless, the council will help if there are children under the Children Act, or if they have serious care needs that require accommodation under the Care Act, but not otherwise. This deputation concerns the group of people to whom no such duty is owed.
On 26th March the government wrote to local authorities asking them to bring “Everyone in”, to accommodate everyone who was homeless or needing accommodation including those with NRPF during the pandemic. Brighton and Hove did so admirably.
However, the government made clear that they had not changed the law in any way, in letters of 28th May and 24th June. Although local authorities had behaved lawfully in accommodating people with NRPF under their emergency public health powers, they could not claim benefits or help them move on from their temporary housing stock.
Many public and private bodies including this Council have urged the government to relax the rules during the emergency, but they have refused. Where the government have provided earmarked funding to local authorities they have not been for those who have NRPF.
Nevertheless, this Council and many others continued to provide this group with accommodation during the pandemic, until a few weeks ago when this Council made a decision to stop doing so. This is set out in the Report (Agenda Item 113) to the Housing Committee dated 18th November, which refers to this group as “rough sleepers with NRPF who the Council cannot accommodate” (para 2.4) and recommends to Policy & Resources to “consider continuing to accommodate those assessed as at risk of rough sleeping [who the government won’t fund] beyond 30 September 2020 … (excluding those who have NRPF …) during the on-going pandemic” (2.15). Policy and Resources decided accordingly (item 94).
The report strongly implies that it would be illegal to accommodate this group. However, the law has not changed in any way since the first lockdown, and the Council’s powers to accommodate people with NRPF are exactly the same now as they were then; the government does not say it was unlawful to accommodate them then under the Council’s powers to deal with the public health emergency (which are the same as its powers to open SWEP), and that emergency continues at a very high level at this moment.
The government shows no concern for this group. However, this City of Sanctuary has not in the past tried to help the government’s Hostile Environment.The Council says it will accommodate any rough sleeper – until they are assessed; but it is clear from the report that if the homeless person belongs to this group they will then wash their hands of them.
Making the situation of people in this group even worse is the recent change in the immigration rules making rough sleeping a ground for refusing or taking away permission to stay in the country. We call on the Council to reverse this policy.It is bad for public health and it is inhuman and cruel.