First Base centre helps homeless over Christmas

From The Argus – full story here

CATCHING up with loved ones is tradition in the festive season but for homeless people with no relations it can be a lonely time. Thanks to a day centre in Brighton and Hove people on the streets have somewhere to go each day for support and comfort. 

CLOSE to a thousand homeless people each year need essential services provided by the First Base Day Centre.

It is estimated around 965 rough sleepers visited the centre in Brighton in the financial year between 2013 and 2014.

Although services are helping people off the streets and back into work and housing, vital funds are still needed to help finance everyday essentials such as food, washing facilities and healthcare.

Simon Hughes, manager of the centre at St Stephen’s Hall in Montpelier Place, said staff see around 60 people there every day during the summer months and around 100 getting involved in activities.

He said: “There are about 22 new people found rough sleeping every week in Brighton and 24 or 25 which are helped to move on from that. It is not always the same people we are seeing.”

Mr Hughes said many people who seek help have often experienced some kind of trauma in their lives, such as a family breakdown, a history of abuse, mental or physical health problems, injuries or job loss. These ordeals can lead to homelessness as well as physical, mental and emotional health problems.

He said: “Some of the most common health problems we see are chest infections and people often need treatment on their feet.”

The facility works with other homeless groups across the city but is the biggest support centre in Brighton and Hove. It aims to help people get back on their feet by building confidence and self esteem.

Brighton Housing Trust covers running costs and funding is received from Public Health England, the Big Lottery, and Heritage Lottery Fund but donations are still needed for everyday essentials.

Mr Hughes said: “We carry out intensive work and address issues to help people move off the street into rented or supported accommodation or to re-locate where they may have family links. We run courses and encourage them to interact with other people again.”

“Figures are rising nationally but locally, due to working together more effectively and helping people get access to services, we are seeing numbers reduce year on year.”

“We can do a lot with this funding and we are grateful but it doesn’t cover everyday essentials like food, toiletries and refreshments. Things like shower gel, laundry powder, toothbrushes, toothpaste, tea, coffee and toilet roll all cost money and are much needed. We would appreciate donations of these items, or money we can put towards buying these.”

Formerly the Brighthelmstone Grand Saloon, the centre opened 30 years ago and has been operating in its present form for four years offering specialised services.

Now it runs an 8am to 11am morning session where breakfast, showers and lunch is available. Clients pay £1 for food when they can.

Visitors can surf the web, charge their phones and use secure lockers for their belongings.

A medical room acts as a GP surgery and doubles up as a sexual health clinic as well as a base for optometrst, hygienist and dentistry services.

Many use the centre as a postal address so they can have items, such as prescriptions, delivered.

Dogs can sit and wait in the hallway while their owners revive themselves.

There are creative writing, film and art workshops between 11am and 3.30pm and some are run by former homeless people who benefited from their time at the centre.

A Regency history project, where members studied historic buildings in the city, and a photography competition, have also been held there.

Work experience is on offer in the kitchen with food hygiene certificates and catering courses available to build up job skills and it is hoped the centre will introduce security guard training courses soon, Simon said.

First Base is the only dedicated service open on Christmas Day for people who have nowhere else to go. A lunch was organised in the run up to Christmas, leaving the actual day a bit more relaxed.

Mr Hughes said: “For some the festive season can be a happy time but for others it can be quite traumatic so we have to get that balance.

“There were other meals organised across the city on the day which we informed clients about if they wanted to attend.”

For information call the First Base Day Centre on 01273 326844 or email first.base@bht.org.uk.

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