As Hastings Borough Council is reviewing their Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy, HIP talks to James Robinson of Surviving the Streets to get his view of life for the homeless.

Under the Homelessness Act 2002, all councils must have a Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy. The strategy document also helps the local community understand how homelessness is being tackled in their town.

‘New’ mobile kitchen at HQ

James Robinson and his brother Peter were brought up on and around the streets and know what it’s like to go through hard times. Both their parents were alcoholics and “there were times in our life where we went to soup kitchens to get a good bit of food”.

They first started helping the homeless and less fortunate four years ago when they worked with another charity, still operating in Hastings providing food on the streets. They set up their own organisation two years ago, feeling that their own experience of life gave them a particular empathy for those they were working with.

As well as supporting the homeless with hot food, clothing, bedding and advice in Hastings, St Leonards and Eastbourne, they work with local children and vulnerable adults to supplement their food. 

James tells us that they already liaise with the council to keep them informed about what’s happening on the streets. However, he feels the council has a tendency to stick with what it knows rather than learn as things change, particularly in relation to new organisations: “The council can help by talking to all the organisations that help the homeless so they can share the load,” he says, “particularly to help communication between each one.”

When we asked how the community can help, James talked about the importance of keeping an eye out for friends and neighbours that might be vulnerable. He says, “People are often ashamed, so they don’t share. Then it can be too late.” 

Although mental health problems can be a cause of homelessness and rough sleeping, he says that the problems often start after being on the streets: “You quickly get into a frame of mind that is difficult to get out of.” 

And as for practical help, a coffee, a sandwich and a chat are all welcome. Surviving the Streets recently launched an appeal for blankets, sleeping bags, and warm clothes. “There are so many more rough sleepers this year that we need all we can get,” he says.

Anyone with their own views on tackling homelessness can contact Hastings Borough Council. They particularly want to hear from organisations already working with homeless people, and people using the services, to make sure the priorities in the draft strategy are right and to find new ways of working together to make sure they are achieved.

“Every resident who finds themselves in this tragic situation needs to be treated with dignity, and in a professional way,” says Andy Batsford, lead councillor for housing. 

Read HBC strategy at Comment by emailing [email protected] by 25 October 

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