Winter night shelter – a look back and forward

A winter night shelter was run by the council at the Brighton Centre from 10 December 2017 to 11 March 2018 providing shelter for rough sleepers during one of the coldest winters for many years.

What was provided?

A shelter for 30 people was set up at the Brighton Centre.

The night shelter had its own street entrance where people arrived to register for the night. Access to the night shelter was from 7pm and people had to depart by 8am.  The night shelter staff provided company, conversation and care.  

Hot food was available throughout the evening in a dining and TV area separate from the sleeping room. The food provided was often the only meal of the day eaten by people staying at the shelter.

In the large quiet sleeping room, lights were dimmed and numbered beds were laid. A cordoned off area was set aside for women.  People were given a bed for the duration of their stay along with a plastic lidded box to store their belongings. 

People could leave their belongings by their beds when the night shelter was closed. This freed people from the burden of setting up their beds each night and carrying their belongings around all day.

The venue did not provide access to a kitchen, or showers.  People were directed to First Base for showers.

Access to the rest of the venue was sealed off and booked events were not disrupted by the service.

People staying at the shelter could not drink or take drugs on the premises. There were no drug-related, or other deaths, among the clients at the night shelter.

For some people this was their first taste of entering accommodation.  For others, this service was good preparation for a move to supported or other accommodation.

People with complex and high needs could access the night shelter. Weekly planning meetings took place to look at the plans to end rough sleeping for each client.

Every night all 30 places were allocated to named individuals who agreed they wanted to stay there. Outreach workers encouraged everyone to take up their beds but some people chose not to stay at the shelter, often this would not be known until late at night when they did not arrive.

What support was offered?

All referrals into the night shelter were through the Street Outreach Service and First Base Day Centre.

Staff worked with people staying at the shelter to look at long term accommodation options as well as offering a winter respite from rough sleeping.

Volunteers were organised by the Charity Link worker. A volunteers’ Facebook page quickly gained 2,000 followers. Volunteers were involved in many aspects of the service before and during the shelter’s opening period. Volunteers also co-ordinated the many generous donations of food, toiletries, books, puzzles and clothes.

The service was overseen by the council’s commissioning team and a council hostel manager, taking on the work in addition to their usual roles. 

People staying at the shelter said they felt cared for, respected, valued and comfortable. The use of volunteers and the generous number of donations contributed to the feelings of self-worth.


The cost of the winter night shelter for offering 30 beds for 91 nights was £127,442.67. 

 This equates to £1,400 per night or £47 per place offered per night.

The shelter moved to St Martins Church on Lewes Road twice due to existing bookings at the Brighton Centre, 14 to 20 January and 27 Feb to 2 March 2018.

There were no rental costs at either venue, utility and cleaning costs were covered.

For reference, SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Provision) was open 43 nights this winter, offering 1,393 bed spaces to 243 different people. SWEP provision this winter cost £45,355.93, which is £32.50 per person per night. 

SWEP does not provide the continuous shelter, food or level of staff support as the night shelter.

 The Churches Night Shelter also offered 15 beds over the winter period.


The shelter was organised with cross party support and planning began shortly after the 2017/18 Budget meeting in February last year. A working group with councillors from Labour, Conservative and Green groups was set up to make decisions on the service. The group met regularly from July 2017 to look at the possible use of empty council buildings as a night shelter.

Cllrs Clare Moonan, Robert Nemeth and David Gibson met regularly with officers from the commissioning team throughout the preparation and operation of the night shelter. 

The shelter in numbers

73 people stayed at the night shelter (nine were women).

It was anticipated that a third of the referrals would be women in recognition of their particular vulnerability rough sleeping. Take up from women was lower than expected with an average of two per night (nine women accessed the shelter in total, many for very short stays). 

28 people moved into some form of accommodation on leaving the night shelter service, while 28 returned to rough sleeping.            

On the night after the night shelter closed, St Mungo’s Street Outreach Service confirmed that 10 people had gone back to rough sleeping in Brighton & Hove.

All 30 places were allocated each evening but the occupancy levels were lower:

Average occupants per night

December 2017 17.9
January 2018 23.8
February 2018 23.3
March 2018 18.0

The final closing numbers were 23 people. 13 people had clear move on plans but ten did not. Of those 10, seven did not have a Local Connection, two were new to rough sleeping and one had no legal right to claim benefits.

Feedback from services

The Street Outreach Team thought the service was invaluable, providing an opportunity for clients to take time out from the strain of rough sleeping and provide some space to talk to support staff.

The ambulance service was able to return a couple of people back to the night shelter rather than leaving them on the street.

It is understood that the stability of having this facility has had a massive impact on the welfare for a large proportion of those who were accepted for beds.

What next?

A full evaluation report is being prepared and will be presented to Policy, Resources and Growth Committee in the summer.

Moving forward, suitable accommodation for rough sleepers to stay overnight is needed for a new service being set up by the council.

The first step is to find a suitable venue which is available for up to a year. The format of the new service will be decided with input from partner organisations, residents, businesses and volunteers working with rough sleepers. A call has been made asking anyone with information about a suitable venue to get in touch. 

This year’s annual budget saw £165,000 allocated towards exploring and establishing more help for rough sleepers.