Life in a shipping container for Brighton’s homeless

The Tab investigates the containers used to shelter the homeless.

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It was an inspired idea from Amsterdam which has been housing over 1000 homeless people since 2006. Working with QED, the Brighton Housing Trust bought and constructed a site of containers which currently houses 36 of Brighton’s homeless men and women. The Tab speaks to one of its residents of the past three months who reveals that life in the containers isn’t exactly plain sailing…

Brighton housing shipping containers

An idealistic image of the containers before the project

Unsurprisingly when 21 year old students clutching voice recorders came knocking on the resident’s doors without warning, most of them didn’t react too kindly. The most polite replies to our questioning were grunts while some took to telling us bluntly to ‘get the fuck out”.

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The finished containers

However there was one resident willing to speak, Shareef moved into the converted container just two days before Christmas day whilst on the fringes of homelessness and since then he has been looking to move onwards and upwards working for an insurance company.

Shareef shares some hospitality in his front room

Shareef shares some hospitality in his front room

While he was grateful for the work that BHT has done for him, he voiced some fairly strong complaints based on the cost and standard of living there. “I’m not happy with it” he says, “The electricity costs so much here, I have two kids and when they come to stay it is cold and it costs too much to heat up the place.”

Throughout the duration of the interview there were two portable heaters noticeably switched on full blast while the room temperature remained fairly cool.

“It’s a problem with the installation; they’ve not been done well… I see some of the guys here who have trouble getting money, they put up with a freezing cold room but I couldn’t do that. That’s a real disaster man. I try to help with their electricity too if I can because they get ill from the cold.”

Upon review of the electricity costs, BHT reduced the prices by a sixth after ten weeks of the tenants first moving in, but Shareef tells us, “Despite the reduced prices I don’t feel any real difference.”

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While Shareef works to maintain his current lifestyle, he admits that the residents who are on benefits have it easier and are more content staying in the same accommodation as him for free. “It’s easier for people on benefits to live here, but for me it’s difficult when I’m working to live in this place.”

As he struggles to justify his current cost of living he admits that he is looking to move out in the summer, “I think about my mum when she comes to visit and I need somewhere nicer now and somewhere with better access for her.”

“If I could, I’d take these containers somewhere hot, not England.”

Speaking to some of Brighton’s Big Issue sellers who confessed to be out of the loop regarding the containers, they fully supported the idea. Stan who sells the magazine on Lewes Rd described the project as “brilliant” but told us he was not able to be considered for the project because it is a requirement to have a family member with Brighton residency, “they turned me down, I’m from the midlands originally with no family origin here.”

The site makes use of what would otherwise be a scrap yard

The site makes use of what would otherwise be a scrap yard

Before the project was completed, Andy Winter, Chief Executive of the BHT proclaimed the idea to be “typical Brighton” and that it was “a solution to deal with a local problem.” Of course, this is not a local problem and it seems like issues surrounding the cold could only worsen if these containers were to spring up in cooler regions. Neither do the containers fully solve the personal and social problems that the homeless population of Brighton are dealing with.

However they can certainly be part of a grand steppingstone for people like Shareef to get their lives back on track. BHT has been awarded a sum in the region of £9million this year, aiming to work in partnership with rehabilitated sufferers of abuse, addiction and homelessness in order to help those who are currently in need.

So while a shipping container may not be ideal accommodation for many, it certainly beats sleeping on the streets.

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