The City’s prominent homelessness charity - the Brighton Housing Trust - has this week begun its search to fill the position of CEO following Andy Winter’s impending retirement after 20 years at the helm. These will be big boots to fill for the appointee, who will need to chart their own course for the organisation and its relationship with the City Council into the future.
When announcing his retirement earlier in the year, Andy Winter said that he could not estimate exactly how many clients’ and tenants’ lives his organisation had changed for the better, but it could have been in the tens of thousands. The City’s loss is lessened by the fact that Andy has already joined The Argus as a weekly columnist, so we can continue to look forward to his contributions in the months to come.
Andy Winter has throughout his time in the role been known as a straight talker, prepared to speak out and be frank with the Council and its Councillors, which the Trust has a key interface with. His practical common-sense approach to tackling homelessness, including getting people back on track by tackling addictions and securing employment, has yielded results - but his policy advice has not always taken on board by the Councillors responsible for running this city.
One such example of this came during the pandemic, when Andy Winter spoke out about the begging that has become embedded in the city. The stubbornness of Brighton’s problem with begging had become particularly obvious at that time: Despite the Council having been provided funding from the Government to accommodate and provide for all homeless people in hotels during the pandemic, begging was still continuing. In his blog in 2021 Andy Winter addressed the issue head on, writing an opinion column that was later widely reported in The Argus and elsewhere. He wrote:
“Over the years I have surprised people by the uncompromising stance I take about begging. Some people think that, as the chief executive of a charity working with homeless people, I should be more sympathetic to the plight of those who beg. I have huge compassion or those who beg. But begging has little to do with homelessness and almost everything to do with addiction.”
He went onto say that providing money for beggars on the streets of Brighton simply feeds additions and is not helpful to anyone in the long term. From his experience he said that the real change comes through the Addiction recovery services that Brighton Housing Trust Sussex ran, which enables people to come off the streets, overcome their addictions and go on to live their lives free from alcohol and drugs.
These comments however have not been heeded by the Councillors at Brighton & Hove City Council. In 2021 Green and Labour Councillors voted to become the only council in the country to introduce an ideological, activist-led ‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ into Brighton & Hove. This sought to enshrine a ‘right to beg’ into the city along with other rights such as erecting tents in the Brighton & Hove’s parks and public spaces.
In permitting begging in the city in this way, the Greens and Labour have shown they have not listened to the advice of Andy Winter or understood his points about the distinction between begging and homelessness. By introducing this policy the Greens and Labour have also put the council into direct contradiction with the police and disregarded the views of residents concerned about aggressive begging in places.
This is emblematic of how the Green/Labour Council has moved away from the common sense and practical approaches to more ideological activist ideals over the course of the past few years.
The Council has an enormous responsibility on the issues of homelessness and rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove and it has too often been found wanting.
The September 2021 ‘Returning to Kendal Court’ independent report showed significant failings of the Council in placing homeless and rough sleepers in accommodation without adequate support. The Council was slow to react to the problems which built up over many years, culminating in some very serious issues, including deaths.
Our Conservative Housing Team raised the matter in a Notice of motion, forcing the council to confront the issue and the Council has now abandoned using Kendal Court for placements. It will need to have a serious think about what it will replace it with and that will be a key piece of work that needs to happen quickly.
The Housing Committee has reported that Brighton and Hove City Council has received Government funding totalling £21,272,376 million to address homelessness and rough sleeping in the approximate period since the pandemic. The Council must face accountability for its performance and its failure to address the issues with this money.
It would do well to start listening to the Brighton Housing Trust, Andy Winter and whomever his successor may be.