A Green Group motion calling for all empty council buildings to be made available for use as homeless shelters was unanimously supported at a meeting of Brighton and Hove full Council yesterday. 
The proposals will give voluntary and community sector groups that are ‘able and willing’ access to currently vacant Council buildings and the support to turn them into temporary homeless shelters. The motion also asks for specific guidance and support to be given to participating groups on the necessary legal, health and safety requirements of managing the buildings. Local homelessness charities have reported difficulty in providing the amount of shelter needed to support the city’s growing homelessness problem, with large waiting lists for hostels and shelter beds.
Councillors Tom Druitt and David Gibson, who proposed the motion, appealed for the Council to ‘use all available resources’ and ‘show some humanity’ as numbers of homeless people rise and temperatures drop to below freezing. Latest figures reveal that Brighton and Hove has the highest number of rough sleepers outside of London, with more than 144 people on the streets, an increase of almost double on the previous year.
Pressure has been building for more to be done about homelessness in the city, with a petition started by local resident John Hadman on the issue receiving almost 4,000 signatures.  Homeless men and women gathered outside Hove Town Hall yesterday evening to support the motion and shared their stories of living on the streets.
Councillor Tom Druitt commented:
“I have already been contacted by voluntary and community organisations who are willing to help and who can give excellent advice on how to ensure this initiative is safely and effectively implemented. I’m so glad that our proposal was supported by all councillors and I hope we can get on with the job quickly and give shelter where it’s needed.
“Now is not the time to say it is ‘too difficult’ to provide more help to people on the streets, or that we ‘don’t have the right insurance’; we know the Council has very little money, but we do have other resources that we can make available for use. I’m calling on residents and businesses to get involved too; these shelters will need money and volunteers if they are to work and it would be wonderful if we could extend the scheme to empty shops and business premises too.”
Councillor David Gibson, the Green spokesperson for Housing, said across the country a lack of proper affordable housing and escalating rents were causing a crisis of homelessness nationwide.
“Support and services that prevent homelessness are being cut. There is simply not enough social housing or temporary accommodation. Welfare benefit changes and the rising cost of rent, as well as the lack of living wage rents are driving many people into poverty in the private rented sector. A change in circumstances such as falling out of work, a broken relationship, domestic abuse, or eviction can easily see someone faced with the prospect of sleeping rough.
“The people of the city – with almost 4000 signatures to a petition – have said we must try and do something about homelessness. We can’t only rely on strategies – we must harness the energies of the voluntary sector, the churches and people in the city to avoid this totally unacceptable situation.”
Local housing and homeless charities and activists have backed the campaign. The news follows similar schemes launched in Bristol and Manchester.  The motion will now be put to the Council’s Policy, Resources and Growth Committee to commission a report on how to enact the new policy.
 Green Group Notice of Motion: Making Vacant Council Buildings Available For Use As Homeless Shelters (attached as PDF).
[http://phantom.brighton-hove.gov.uk/mgChooseDocPack.aspx?ID=6131, pg. 333]
 Video interview with Cllr Druitt and Cllr Gibson