Brighton: As council seals arches, where do the people go?

On Thursday 12th and Friday 13th several arches and shelters above Madeira Drive, at Black Rock, spaces which had housed a community of people over the summer were sealed off with metal grilles — the question has to be where are those people now?

This summer I was really shocked by the number of homeless people in Brighton. It was much higher than it used to be. Despite a controversial official survey which said numbers had dropped by half, the evidence from my own eyes was that I saw many more homeless people on my way into town than in previous years. There are also many people living in the parks and on the beach. There have been encampments all over town, for example Hove Lawns. Now it’s getting colder, the camps are disappearing and so are the people. Where have they gone? Each person sleeping rough has their own reasons for doing so, maybe some have chosen to move on because of the weather, but what about the others?

A fairly new development are tents in the shopping streets of the centre, which the council deals with through an enforcement process instead of immediate eviction like most places. Some tents have been there for months. Whilst this may seem much more precarious than squatting a building, I guess people must be doing because it works. The only tent dweller in the centre I’ve managed to ask about it so far said he was much safer on a busy shopping street than the place where he was before, where he had been attacked.

With the number of tents growing, where will it end?

When we did a squatted homeless shelter several years ago (the Autonomous Homeless Shelter), our aim was to provide a safe space for people who needed it, which they could access whenever they needed it and no matter what their status. This differentiated us from the council approach, which was to provide accommodation in which people could only stay in overnight (not from 9am-7pm) and to only help people who were judged to be sufficiently deserving by a ridiculous point-scoring system. Although it was certainly a daunting occupation, we managed to non-hierarchically run a shelter for about a year in two consecutive buildings near to London Road (photos of the first place here). Completely DiY and unfunded, the shelter provided a space for people to have a place and address of their own from which they could then access services. In total, about 60 people came through the doors. Yes it was a lot of work but we showed it could be done. Right-wing commentators always seem to insist on kicking the homeless out of Brighton (to where I don’t know) and moan about homeless drug addicts. Well sure there are some homeless drug users, just like there are lots of rich twats taking coke, the shelter’s policy was no drugs but hardened street drinkers, who basically can’t function without booze, could still drink as long as they didn’t bother anyone else.

Nowadays I’m not hearing about any squatted projects, there are still some hidden squats for sure but it must be more difficult since 2012 and the criminalisation of squatting in residential buildings. If memory serves, the last social centres were the Radical Bank on London Road and the Circus Street occupation in 2017, both of which were very short-lived. The last public squat I heard about was down at the Old Steine in summer and that was quickly evicted, it’s still rotting away empty and sealed with metal plates as we head into winter. What a waste of a building.

Recently the arches in Black Rock have been closed off with metal grilles. These spaces are on the pedestrian promenade below the main road and above Madeira Drive. They faced onto the seafront and the Volks Railway station. They were right next to the derelict Black Rock lido, which has been empty for 40 years. Many homeless people could be housed there if there was any political will, as shown by the Sussex Homeless Support who put their buses there and house up to 30 people every night.
Is the council doing this now because they want to develop the lido finally? (Don’t get me started on that fiasco.) It reminds me of Dr Geebers who lived in a tent on the beach back in 2013 and made sculptures out of differently coloured pebbles, before being forced to move on.

It’s true that most of the people sleeping in the arches seem to have already moved on, probably it was too cold, but where have they gone? And where will they go next year? And anyway why is the council spending thousands of pounds on sealing off these shelters? Over the summer the shelters were used by a diverse bunch of people, ranging from cyclists on tour to daytrippers spending one night in a tent, to more longterm occupiers who used to barbecue regularly on the seafront. I’m sure they all had different reasons for being there but I didn’t hear about any problems being created. It was a simple solution for those needing a place to stay. And now it’s gone.


Postscript: Speaking of things that are gone, the bars have since mysteriously been removed. Apparently the leader of the council is livid, it cost £9,000-odd to put them up …