The battle against homelessness in Hastings and St Leonards is a big one – but it is one the community is determined to take on.
And at the heart of that fight is the Seaview Project.
For the last 33 years, Seaview has been leading the charge, helping those who are marginalised by society either through mental health issues, addiction or homelessness. It was initially set up, in 1985, as a response to the closure of the county asylum at Hellingly, to support its former patients.
Last year, the charity had contact with 1,400 people in need of help and support. Of those, 317 were rough sleepers.
But sadly, the number of people frequenting the streets of Hastings and St Leonards is continuing to rise.
Which means the work of the Seaview Project is more important than ever.
The charity has two main branches of support – the open access wellbeing centre, and the Housing Support and Outreach Service – both of which provide valuable support to vulnerable people.
The centre, on the corner of Hatherley Road and Southwater Road, is the only open access wellbeing centre of its nature – focusing on those that are homeless and rough sleeping – in East Sussex, outside of Brighton and Hove.
Speaking about the wellbeing centre, Seaview’s chief officer Annie Whelan said: “We have an open access approach, which means anyone can come along. There is a level of self-referral, people need to say, ‘I need help’. That’s really important, particularly for people who are rough sleeping and may not have had any support for a while.
“At the wellbeing centre, they can get hot meals, access to laundry and showers, they can use the gym. But they can also get access to primary care for physical injuries, mental health, and substance misuse.
“We also run activity sessions, including football, gardening, arts and crafts.
“We want the people that come here to remember things that were important to them, to reconnect with life.
“Once people come into the centre, our goal is to help them rejoin their community. These activities help with that, and taps into their potential.”
Workers at Seaview try and encourage people to engage with the charity and attend the wellbeing centre through the second branch of its support service – the Housing Support and Outreach Service.
This sees a committed team of people trawl 15 miles of seafront from St Leonards to Hastings at 4am, three times a week, checking on the wellbeing of rough sleepers.
The service has been going for around 16 to 17 years, and allows Seaview to gauge how many people are sleeping on the streets of Hastings and St Leonards each night. While, on average, the workers will see around 30-40 people per night, the highest counted on one single night was 49.
The Housing Support and Outreach Service is not about enforcement, it is about help. Sometimes, the workers find a person at the point of death and call an ambulance. Other times, sadly, they are too late.
The Housing Support and Outreach Service is often the first contact rough sleepers will have with any sort of support network. And even if they don’t engage or visit the wellbeing centre straight away, Seaview’s workers will continue to check on them during the morning sessions.
Annie added: “It’s important we gain their trust. Often, the people we come across are where they are because of some sort of complex trauma, and may have a lot of disorder or chaos in their lives. They need to know they can trust us before they engage with us.”
Seaview’s projects manager Sue Burgess added: “We have to be patient.
“Not everyone is ready to engage right away, but there will usually be a point where they’ve had enough of the situation they’re in. When they’re ready, we’ll be here to help them.
“Sometimes people engage with the service, only to find they’re not ready. One gentleman we helped was in and out of housing a number of times. He wasn’t ready for the responsibility that came with having a place to live. But he is now housed. It took a while for him to want some furniture – he slept on the floor – but he has now moved to a sofa. It’s a big step for people who aren’t used to it, and sometimes it is a bit of a revolving door. But we know we just have to be patient.”
On Thursdays, Seaview’s wellbeing centre is focused on rough sleepers, and it brings together a hub of partner agencies – such as the council’s housing team and mental health support – to offer wide-ranging help and support to homeless people.
On those days, the outreach team will go out twice in a bid to encourage people to attend the wellbeing centre, where they are also served breakfast.
It costs around £500,000 a year to keep the Seaview Project running, half of which comes from grants and the other half of which the charity match-funds through donations and fundraising.
The biggest fundraiser of the year – The Big Sleep – saw more than £18,000 raised by those taking part. That money, Annie says, is enough to cover the cost of one part-time worker on the Housing Support and Outreach team for the year.
Earlier this year, Seaview was named as one of eight national winners of the GSK Impact Award, which are made to voluntary sector organisations who have had an exceptionally positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the communities they serve.
And the good work doesn’t stop there. Seaview is working closely with Hastings Borough Council on the Rough Sleeping Initiative – a project funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). The government granted £810,000 to councils in Hastings and Eastbourne with a view to helping rehouse entrenched rough sleepers, who have been on the streets for years.
The project is working with a group of 20 rough sleepers – 10 in Hastings and 10 in Eastbourne – and aims to get them into long-term accommodation.
It involves the setting up of ‘Housing First’ units, which will see the entrenched rough sleepers given shelter initially, which is then followed up with one-on-one support.
A multi-disciplinary team has been set up to provide that care, made up of drugs workers, mental health support workers, social workers, housing support workers and health workers. Seaview will be helping provide this support in Hastings and St Leonards, and partnering with the Salvation Army to do the same in Eastbourne.
And the project has already seen some success, with a number of the 20 entrenched rough sleepers already placed in accommodation.
There is a long way to go until rough sleeping is no longer an issue in our towns, but the work of Seaview is fundamental in making progress towards that goal.
• The wellbeing centre is open from 10am to 4pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays; 10am to 2pm on Wednesday; and from 8.30am to 2.30pm on Thursdays.
Seaview is always in need of financial donations, which can be made online, as well as donations of clothes – particularly underwear and small trousers/jeans – and toiletries. New volunteers are also welcomed, particularly those with basic digital and computer skills.
For more information or to get in touch, visit www.seaviewproject.co.uk.
To watch a video about Seaview, click here.