Equinox Brighton street drinking audits: 2013 to 2015

Posted by on 11 June 2014 | 0 Comments

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They are amongst the most marginalised groups in society – people who drink on the streets.

Equinox Brighton, who have worked with this group in an outreach capacity since 2007, are carrying out 4 week-long street audits in Brighton and Hove, between 2013 and 2015.

These audits are deepening the understanding of the street drinking community, including people’s housing status, street drinking profile and individual support needs. New support services have been developed by Equinox Brighton as a direct result of audit findings.

There are many misguided ideas about people who are homeless or in temporary accommodation, particularly those who use alcohol or drugs – common myths include the idea that people in this situation don’t want help or they bring all their problems upon themselves. The truth is that much more often, people in this situation have underlying mental health conditions that are not being treated and/or significant past traumas, which have never been addressed and require urgent professional support.

Equinox Brighton hopes that this work may help to reduce the stigma and marginalisation faced by this section of our society, whilst improving their options for support and treatment.

July 2013 audit results

Equinox Brighton carried out a count of street drinkers over 6 days in July 2013. The police Street Community NPT, Off the Fence and the Brighton Rough Sleepers Street Services Relocation Team also fed into the count.

93 people were found street drinking – 26 were female and 67 male.

Of these, 33 are high profile regular street drinkers (seen more than once on the count and more than 3 times on street shifts in July and August 2013), 24 have a lower street presence and 36 were only seen on the count. The numbers seen overall (and in particular the 36 who were only seen on the count) reflect the fact that the count included people seen over 6 days, rather than a snapshot of one day. The highest number seen on a single day was 40.

The three largest accommodation groups were: 

  • 38% were accommodated in hostels
  • 28% were rough sleepers
  • 18% were Council housed

February 2014 audit results

Equinox Brighton carried out their second audit over 6 days in February 2014.

36 people were found street drinking – 3 were female and 33 male.

Of these, 13 are high profile regular street drinkers, 16 have a lower street presence and 7 were only seen on the count. The highest number seen on a single day was 7.

This seasonal dip reflects the historical trend that many more people are seen out in warmer months. This is true across street drinking and rough sleeping.

The three largest accommodation groups were:

  • 44% were accommodated in hostels
  • 36% were rough sleepers
  • 3% were Council housed

There were 15 people seen on both audits (July 2013 and Feb 2014).

The third and fourth audits will take place over 6 days in July 2014 and February 2015.

Targeting high profile street drinkers – how Equinox Brighton have responded as a service

When Equinox Brighton looked at where the highest profile street drinkers were accommodated, the percentage in hostels rose to:

  • 49% (July 2013 audit)
  • 56% (February 2014)

Equinox Brighton’s street audits helped to identify people at risk of losing their hostel placements and following the July 2013 street audit, Equinox bid for and won funding for a new service, the Equinox Brighton Hostel Link Team, to work specifically with this group.

There was a lack of alcohol / treatment focused resources in the city’s homelessness hostels. Among the hostel population in 2012, 46% had alcohol support needs, an increase of 9% from 2011. And according to the 2013 Rough Sleeper & Single Homeless Needs Assessment, 60% of those evicted from the city’s hostels had alcohol support needs (with three quarters of these having previously been evicted from hostels).

Progress so far:

The Equinox Brighton Hostel Link Team started work in January 2014 and by the end of March 2014, 31 people had been referred to the service. An indication of the level of need in the client group is that 8 of these 31 had unplanned departures almost immediately, before the Hostel Link workers had started working with them.

Of the 23 people worked with between January and March 2014, 16 have improved their engagement with treatment services, including 8 being lined up for detox/rehab and 1 man, Brian, completing detox and attending follow up counseling. 

Brian is 40 with a long history of rough sleeping, street drinking and drug dependence. Since Equinox Brighton began working with him, he has successfully completed his first detox and is now sober for the first time in his adult life. He is attending follow up counselling and GP appointments, taking medication safely, and has been linked in with an optician. He is now able to deal with treatment for Hepatitis C and is getting regular exercise. With personalisation funds, Equinox Brighton acquired fishing equipment for Brian, so he could pursue his interests outside the hostel. Equinox Brighton continue to work with Brian to identify volunteering opportunities at gardening projects around the city, as well as life skills training. Independent supported housing has been identified and the aim is for Brian to move within 3 months, where Equinox Brighton will offer tapering support if required. Brian recently attended his teenage son’s birthday and is rebuilding relationships with all his children.

Sensible on Strength campaign:

There is also continued work on the city-wide Sensible on Strength campaign, created in 2013 by Brighton & Hove Council, trading standards, Sussex Police, supported by Equinox Brighton. The aim is to encourage as many retailers as possible to stop selling high strength beer, alcohol and cider (above 6% ABV). The campaign is having a real impact on reducing high strength lager and cider hotspots.

Equinox Brighton Service Manger, Jesse Wilde, said: “At the scary end, people drink 500 units of alcohol a week. That’s nearly 20 cans a day, 80 to 90 units a day. The recommended limit for an adult is 3 to 4 a day. It’s more of an issue than heroin and crack. People’s bodies are 60 to 70 years old, in 30 to 40 year olds – because 9% alcohol, at that level, will damage organs.”

29 year old Steve, a former street drinker, explained: ‘I’d been drinking on and off since I was 14. When I was street drinking, I was drinking Special Brew and cider. At the time it was cheap and it blocked the pain out, quicker. It ruined me. I was in and out of jail, with relationship problems, self harm and depression. I think [Sensible on Strength] is a good idea. If it weren’t there when I was younger, maybe I wouldn’t have drunk it. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone to jail.”

Results of Sensible on Strength include:

  • 15 of the highest profile street drinkers have a reduced presence
  • 3 have good accommodation outcomes
  • 2 have good treatment outcomes – attending rehab and maintaining abstinence
  • The city’s GP surgery for the homeless report that many people have switched to lower strength alcohol, as the higher strength brands like Tennants and Special Brew become harder to find.
  • Equinox Brighton recently undertook joint visits with Licencing and Trading Standards to a number of retailers in the city who were continuing to sell above 6%. A street drinking hotspot in Hove was mainly being supplied by one particular retailer who was selling the high strength beer from 8am. This retailer was persuaded to stop selling these products.
  • Before Sensible on Strength people would congregate in a large group and spend the day in one spot getting more inebriated with easily accessible sources of alcohol. This made it difficult for services to penetrate the group and do meaningful work. Now people are having to invest more time in searching for high strength alcohol; as a result, the groups are more transient and easier to work with. 
  • Many street drinkers and hostel drinkers have switched to 6% rather than 9% alcohol and this makes engagement with services easier and means they are less likely to be involved in risky behaviour.

To find out more about Equinox Brighton, visit their webpage.

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