Action on Homes Conference

David Thomas speaking at the launch of the campaign. Photo credit Norman Miller.

On 22nd October 2122 Brighton & Hove Housing coalition hosted a Conference entitled Action on Homes at the Brighthelm Centre, which gathered many important players to talk about the housing crisis both here in Brighton & Hove and nationally. You can read more about this, and can listen to and watch presentations, here. David Thomas, acting co-chair of the Coalition, made a brief speech about the Homeless Bill of Rights and its influence on the Council which may be viewed here.

This is what he said.

I’m David Thomas, legal officer of the Housing Coalition. I am here to talk to you about, to remind you of the Homeless Bill of Rights. It was mentioned in Dan’s gripping introductory video; many of you will have signed the petition for the Council to adopt it. I should just outline what it is for those of you who are not already familiar with it.

The Homeless Bill of Rights is a European document, put together by voluntary organisations working with homeless people as a charter for cities to adopt. It starts with our international obligation to a right to a home, though it exists because we have failed to make that real. It demands the right to shelter for all who want it, so that no-one is ever forced to sleep rough in our city. It is also full of practical rights, such as the right to access adequate sanitary facilities; but above all it is a demand for people without homes to be treated the same as the rest of us, not as a problem to be solved, but as people with rights and dignity; a demand for a different way of seeing, talking about, and acting with homeless people. …

The Housing Coalition began a campaign to have this document adopted by this City with a launch in this building in October 2018. This conference for us honours two former chairs who have died since then. Steve Parry chaired the launch of the Homeless Bill of Rights, and Barry Hughes spoke to the Council at the presentation of the petition. Both the Green Party and the Labour Party put it in their manifestos, but it still took a long campaign, including the petition, demonstrations, deputations, questions, arguments in consultations, and much lobbying before it was incorporated into the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy in June 2020 and finally was fully adopted by the City Council on 25th March 2021. It was adopted as an aspiration and as “the standard against which the Council and its partners judge its policies and practices and outcomes”. That was a great victory; it is down to everyone who took part in the campaign, but special thanks of course go to David Gibson and Siriol Hugh-Jones, then and now joint chairs of housing, and Gill Williams, Labour shadow chair of housing, who together pushed it through.

But what has happened since? I have no doubt that the three councillors I have named, and many others, still strongly believe in the principles of the Bill of Rights. But – and here I am happy if anyone can correct me – there is precious little sign of it having made a difference to the practice of the officers of the City or its partners. I will take just one example of what I mean. The Coalition are members of the Homeless Reduction Operations Board, chaired by the Executive Director of Housing, the body which is supposed to oversee the operations of the Council and its partners in the field of homelessness. Its first meeting was four months after the Bill of Rights was adopted by the Council. I searched all the minutes and agendas and documents presented to it, including the Action plan, and found precisely one reference to the Homeless Bill of Rights. It was in the minutes of the first meeting when I asked why it was not part of the terms of reference of the Board. The Executive Director simply said that the Board had no power to change the terms.

In one sense this is not exactly a surprise. Senior officers in the Council were never exactly welcoming to the idea that administrative efficiency was not the same thing as humanity, or that homeless people had rights, and there never seemed to be much enthusiasm in the managers of the voluntary sector either.

Was it all in vain, then?

No, not at all. This document is a campaigning document. Like the City of Sanctuary movement, we have inscribed our rights and principles into the official heart of the Council. Now we can use it in our campaigns, to force people with power to take it seriously in fights on behalf of individuals and policies. If the Council is unwilling to use it as “a standard to judge its policies and practices and outcomes”, then let us, the concerned citizens of this city, use it instead. The Homeless Bill of Rights declares that all of us, whether or not we have settled homes, are equal in dignity and rights, and we must never give up the struggle to make that a reality.

Just Fair support the Brighton & Hove Homeless Bill of Rights

Jamie Burton QC, in the above photo with Maria Jose Aldanas of FEANTSA at the launch of the Homeless Bill of Rights, is Chair of the UK Human Rights organisation, Just Fair. He has sent a message to the Leader of the Council supporting the adoption of the Bill of Rights on Thursday 25th March 2021. Here is the message in full:

Dear Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty,

I am delighted to see that Brighton and Hove City Council is on the cusp of becoming the first council in the UK to adopt the Homeless Bill of Rights. As a QC who has worked on homelessness issues for decades, I firmly believe that it is vital that the rights of people who find themselves without a home are fully recognised and, moreover, that a rights based approach is the best way to tackle the social injustices caused by homelessness.  Also, as Chair of Just Fair, a human rights charity that champions the human right to adequate housing and has advocated successfully on behalf of homeless people at the United Nations, I am also conscious of the wider significance of Brighton’s pioneering work in this regard. I was privileged to speak at the launch of the Bill in autumn 2018 and have been aware ever since of the acclaim, both domestically and abroad, that this initiative has attracted. I very much hope that the Bill is adopted and that you and your colleagues on the Council are rightly proud of this fantastic achievement. You will be setting the standard that hopefully many other towns and cities will follow.

Warm regards,

Jamie Burton

Why we should adopt the Homeless Bill of Rights

This post provides detailed arguments that were presented as part of the Consultation into Brighton & Hove’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeper Strategy. As a result of the Consultation, the Strategy was adopted on 17th June 2020. It says:

“The values of the … Strategy align to aspirations within the Homeless Bill of Rights as amended for Brighton & Hove by Housing Rights Watch, FEANTSA and Just Fair. The Homeless Bill of Rights should be viewed as a standard against whith the Council and its partners judge our policies and practices.”

We agree. So why hasn’t the Council adopted it?

The full text of the Brighton & Hove Homeless Bill of Rights can be downloaded as a .pdf or as a .doc file.

In addition this page provides a detailed article by article commentary.

What is The Homeless Bill of Rights?

It was launched by FEANTSA (the European voluntary sector umbrella organization on homelessness) in November 2017. It has been adopted by nine European cities so far including Barcelona. The Labour Party Conference 2019 adopted Brighton’s version as party policy.

FEANTSA describes it as a compilation of basic rights drawn from European and International human rights law. By endorsing it, cities reaffirm their commitment to human rights which should guide all public actors towards tackling the root causes of poverty and homelessness.

It was launched in Brighton in October 2018 by Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition, FEANTSA, and a British human rights organization called Just Fair. Many future Labour and Green councillors (and Robert Nemeth) were present and all three Brighton MPs sent in messages in support.

A petition calling on the Council to adopt it currently has about 2,600 signatures: . The petition was submitted to the full Council meeting on 25th July 2019; it received supportive speeches and was referred to the Housing Committee on 18th September.

What does it say?

Like other human rights declarations, it is a statement of principle for us to aspire to and work towards, rather than a legal instrument.

Article 1 is the international human right to a home. This document is not about normalising homelessness. That there are homeless people is already a breach of this right. It may seem strange to start with a right that we cannot at the moment deliver, but it is essential that it is stated at the beginning that our aspiration is to end homelessness.

Article 2 states that we should provide enough emergency accommodation and shelter, open to all, that no-one should be forced to sleep rough. This need not mean ignoring the national law relating to people without immigration status; simple life-preserving shelters can still legally be provided in the same way as under SWEP and during the Covid-19 pandemic. The other articles make detailed, practical provisions for ensuring that homeless people are treated with the respect for human equality and dignity that is at the heart of human rights.

What is it for?

Fundamentally it is about a different attitude towards the homeless. For good and bad reasons, councils tend to see homeless people as a nuisance, to be cleared away as far as possible, or at best as a problem to be solved. The Homeless Bill of Rights is an attempt to change this, to put the dignity and humanity of homeless people at the heart of policy and practice.

What are the criticisms?

It is said that Article 11, which among other things says that homeless people should not be criminalized just for begging, is contrary to the existing crime of begging in the Vagrancy Act 1824. The Vagrancy Act also makes it a crime to sleep rough; so arguably many of the articles are against its terms. However:

a) the Homeless Bill of Rights is a statement of principle for us to aspire to and work towards; we should sign up to it even if we can’t implement it all at once – see Article 1, the right to housing.

b)        This early 19th century Act is highly controversial. It is Labour party and Green party policy to repeal it. There is a current campaign by Crisis, Homeless Link, St Mungos and many other homelessness charities to repeal it, and the government is to consult on the Act soon.

c) Sussex Police have wide discretion on what crimes to pursue; they have chosen not to enforce the offence against rough sleeping in recent times.

It would be ample compliance with Article 11 for the Council to respond to the consultation and to indicate to its police partners its view on the matter.

It has been said that this document would give the homeless rights to housing and that this would mean they jumped the queue over those already waiting in emergency and temporary accommodation. That is absolutely not the case. The Homeless Bill of Rights includes people in temporary and emergency accommodation. It does not give homeless people more rights than everyone else – it seeks to make real for them the same rights that everyone else has.

Some people are very concerned about homeless people sleeping in tents, and issues of course can arise, different in each case. The Homeless Bill of Rights in no way stops the council from dealing with anti-social behaviour or safeguarding people. What it tries to prevent people from doing is treating homeless people as though they were as a whole a source of anti-social behaviour, or a threat. Like any equalities provision, it bans stereotyping; specifically, it demands respect for people living in a desperate situation.

If the Council adopts the Homeless Bill of Rights, what should happen?

The council often adopts petitions or statements that then go nowhere. We are not interested in virtue signalling. What we think the council should do, if it is wholeheartedly adopting the policy, is this:

For each committee whose work affects the homeless (most of them)

  • to commission a report reviewing all existing policies, practices and procedures that affect the homeless for compliance with the Homeless Bill of Rights, and
  • to commission a report making proposals for new policies that will work effectively towards making the council compliant.

This is where consultation and the help of the Council’s partners will be needed, and considerations of resources and timing come into play.

  • To change council procedures so that compliance with the Homeless Bill of Rights be included explicitly in the equalities assessment that every report dealing with the homeless must carry. Homelessness is not one of the statutory protected characteristics, but at this time of great and increasing homelessness, in this City of Sanctuary, it must be treated as if it is; and
  • To seek in all its relationships with its third sector or other partners to encourage and require where appropriate compliance with the Homeless Bill of Rights.

More Information

You are cordially invited to look around the site, which contains information regarding the campaign so far.

Labour Party Conference 2019

Text: Vote for the Homelessness Motion. Image of homeless person holding placard: "Keep your coins, I want change. Text below: Rights for the homeless Now.
Created with GIMP

The Labour Party Conference passed the motion below unanimously on 25th September 2019, and the Party is now committed to the Homeless Bill of Rights.

Councillor Debs Stainforth of the East Worthing & Shoreham CLP put forward as their policy motion to the Labour Party Conference 2019 a motion in support of the Homeless Bill of Rights. The unions selected homelessness as one of their eight preferences for subjects to discuss at the Conference, and this motion was composited with other motions including those sponsored by our friends the Labour Homelessness Campaign.

Composite motion 19 now reads in part as follows:

Conference calls on the Labour Party:

• That the Labour Party adopt the Homeless Bill of Rights and thereafter in all its policies, practices and procedures that affect the homeless endeavour to comply with the letter and the spirit of the Homeless Bill of Rights, and promote it within the membership. The Homeless Bill of Rights is a compilation of basic rights drawn from European and international human rights law, but made specific to the situation of the homeless and it includes those of people in emergency and temporary accommodation and the “hidden homeless”.

This fantastic initiative has the chance of embedding the Homeless Bill of Rights and the principles behind it at the heart of the Labour Party’s policy making and possibly the next manifesto. Please support it!

The Homeless Bill of Rights was drawn up by homelessness organisations across Europe. It embodies international human rights standards in a document addressed specifically to the situation of the homeless. Including those in temporary and emergency accommodation. It has been adopted by seven European cities including Barcelona. It is a set of standards, a promise to the homeless that they are equal in dignity and respect with us all, an endeavour to make the human rights that we all have effective and real for those of us without a secure home. In international law, everyone has the human right to a home. We must make this a reality for everyone, and in the meantime we stand against the criminalisation and stigmatisation of the homeless.

Brighton & Hove Full Council 25th July 2019

The Chair of the Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition, Barry Hughes, presented the petition to the full Council meeting on 25th July 2019. He made a brilliant speech, which you may see at 1:50 on the recording of the meeting here. Councillor John Allcock, Chair of the Housing and New Homes Committee, spoke powerfully to support the Homeless Bill of Rights, as did Amy Heley of the Green Party and (more cautiously) Mary Mears of the Conservatives; it was sent to the Housing and New Homes Committee on 18th September for a decision on adoption.

We shall be there!

Presenting the Petition to Brighton & Hove City Council

The Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition, in conjunction with FEANTSA, Housing Rights Watch and Just Fair, will be presenting its petition to adopt the Homeless Bill of Rights to the City Council meeting on Thursday 25th July 2019.

Our members and supporters are asked to gather outside Hove Town Hall for 2:30PM, to lobby councillors as they go into the start of the meeting at 3pm.

Please contact your friends and allies in the struggle to attend if they can and to spread the news!

If you are resident in Brighton & Hove, please also email your councillors and ask them to support the unconditional adoption of the Homeless Bill of Rights as a statement of principles for the Council to work towards and abide by.

Also present will be the installation commemorating the homeless dead of 2018, as set out in an earlier post.

Koldo Casla, Policy Director of Just Fair, says:

The reality of homelessness is the UK is a painful reminder of why, now more than ever, we need to secure the right to adequate housing and other social rights in law and practice. As observed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, “effective implementation of the right to adequate housing cannot be achieved without the proactive involvement of local and subnational governments.” We very much welcome the Homeless Bill of Rights of Brighton & Hove. Even within the limits of diminishing resources, local authorities have the opportunity and responsibility to fulfil the right to adequate housing and other human rights for all without discrimination of any kind.

Freek Spinnewijn, Director of FEANTSA, has called on the Leader of the Council to support it in a letter:

On behalf of FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, I hereby invite you to endorse the Homeless Bill of Rights in Brighton and Hove. …

We at FEANTSA strongly believe that cities must play a critical role in recognising and vindicating the human rights of all citizens. Endorsing the bill entails an explicit support by the city for the European campaign and the start of a change of policy in the city around homelessness.

We encourage the City of Brighton and Hove to commit to the Homeless Bill of Rights and for it to be translated into firm actions to promote and respect its values.

Art installation marks deaths of homeless in Brighton and Hove

Photo of art installation consisting of a set of painted pillows laid out like tombstones, each with the face of a homeless person who had died over the last year.
Dinah Lee Morgan brought her installation Brighton 2018-2019: In Memory of Our Dead Homeless to Jubilee Square during the 2019 Brighton Festival. Photo credit Nammie Matthews

Lewes-based artist and sculptor Dinah Lee Morgan brought her installation Brighton 2018-2019: In Memory of Our Dead Homeless to Jubilee Square on Monday – a set of painted pillows laid out like tombstones for passers-by to pay their respects. Click here for the Brighton & Hove News Article.

She contacted the Coalition through our 38 degrees petition to say “Hi! It is a great thing that you are doing!” She told us about her artwork and went on, “I wondered if you wanted to use it as part of your campaign-you are very welcome to.” We certainly will, and she has agreed to set up her installtion again outside Hove Town Hall on Thursday afternoon, 25th July, when we shall be taking our petition to the full Council and asking them to adopt the Homeless Bill of Rights in full.

No-one should ever have to sleep rough

The Art/Law Network is a gathering of artists, lawyers, agitators, coming together to work and collaborate for change. Recently they published a piece about the Homeless Bill of Rights, as follows:

Redistributing the Sensible: The Brighton Homeless Bill of Rights by David Thomas

We have a homelessness crisis. You need only walk the streets of Brighton and Hove, or any city in the country, to see it. But the street homeless that you see are only the visible symptom, the intolerable crux, of the housing crisis that affects so many people. There are 5-10,000 people sleeping rough, but Shelter (2018) estimates that there are 320,000 homeless altogether counting people in hostels and temporary and emergency accommodation. Even that total doesn’t include the hidden homeless, those sleeping in crowded and unsuitable accommodation, on friend’s sofas, in cars, in boats, in tent encampments. Rough sleepers are not people suffering from some extraordinary illness or incapacity; they are you and me, they are people who have had a bit of bad luck, they are the visible sign of our disintegrating systems for supporting human beings. Their situation is appalling – according to the ONS (2018) the average age at death is 44 for men, 42 for women.

In another way, though, they are not visible at all. No-one looks at them, no-one catches their eye; most people ignore them. They are visible only in the same way as graffiti, as an irritation in the corner of the eye.

Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition is an organization of activists which tries to change the way that homeless people are seen. When our city is not treating rough sleepers as a nuisance, they still regard rough sleepers as a problem to be solved, or mitigated. We, on the other hand, argue for a different view, that of the rough sleepers themselves, trying to make the establishment see what it is like for them, to see them as people rather than problems.

So we came to launch the Homeless Bill of Rights for Brighton & Hove. It has been drawn up by European homelessness organizations, and is full of practical insights into the conditions under which rough sleepers survive. It is the outcome of a European campaign against the tendency to criminalize the homeless and to exclude them from public spaces, pushing them away out of sight. It has been signed by six European cities so far, including Barcelona. We hope that Brighton & Hove will be the first British city to adopt it.

Article 1 of the Bill of Rights is the right to housing to which this country has committed itself in international law. It must be absolutely clear that everyone already has the right to housing, and that the remainder of the Bill of Rights is necessary only insofar as we as a community have failed to implement it. Homelessness is itself a breach of fundamental rights. The other rights address the detailed experience of life on the streets and seeks to make it less unbearable and to make true the equality in dignity and rights that rough sleepers theoretically have.

For this particular struggle, human rights are a good fit. They cut through all the distinctions of domestic legislation, between those with a local connection and those without, and those who have a right to stay in the country and those who have not. Many of the people on our streets do not have immigration status; they are barred from nearly all services and are always in fear of being betrayed to the Home Office for deportation. Human rights refuse that distinction.

For Jacques Rancière, the existing arrangements in society which give everyone their place and role, and which organize and justify that allocation, amount also to a particular way of seeing, a particular arrangement of which people are heard and which are not, which are able to take part in the making of the community and which are not, who is visible and who is not. This is the situation of inequality in which we live. But it is possible to disrupt this situation, to disturb this order of the seeable and sayable, by constructing a dispute or dissensus in order to bring bringing two worlds into collision. Human rights are a writing of the community as free and equal, and they may be used to force such a collision; here, between the world where homeless people are unseen and uncounted, and the world where they are bearers of rights and dignity and speak for themselves within the community. This is what we are trying to do with the Homeless Bill of Rights, here and now in Brighton and Hove; to force a change in what may be seen and heard, a recount in the name of equality. Please support our campaign.

Sign the Petition!

Photos of a piece of street art with a homeless man holding a sign saying "Keep your coins, I want change".
By Australian street artist Meek.

Sign the Petition for Brighton & Hove City Council to sign the Homeless Bill of RIghts HERE.

Brighton & Hove is in the top ten local authorities in the country for numbers of rough sleepers. These are just the ones you can see. There are thousands more people living in tents, cars, boats, hostels, and emergency and temporary accommodation.

All people, homeless or not, are free and equal in dignity and rights. But in truth, rough sleepers are treated at best as a problem and at worst as a nuisance to be cleared away. The Homeless Bill of Rights tries to make human rights real for those of us who are unfortunate enough to be homeless, by giving them respect, dignity and help in their struggle to survive.

The most important right is the right to housing; but at the very least no-one, ever, should be forced to sleep rough.

It has been adopted by six European cities including Barcelona. We want Brighton & Hove to become the first British city to adopt the Homeless Bill of Rights.