The number of people sleeping rough in Bristol has been recorded at 86 during the city’s official annual count.
This is an increase of 12 people (14%) from the official figure recorded this time last year, but still only represents the tip of the iceberg, with other people who are sleeping in unsafe buildings or sofa-surfing not included.
The council and its partners are committed to addressing the problem of homelessness and reducing rough sleeping - eventually to zero - in the city.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, has made tackling the issue of homelessness a top priority.
He said: “We are incredibly disappointed, but not surprised, that despite all the hard work of people across the city the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of Bristol continues to rise.
“The increasing intensity of the city and the country’s housing crisis is the reason we have made homes and communities one of our very highest priorities– from rough sleeping to the hidden homeless.
“National policy is making more people poorer and more vulnerable - this is the context in which we are providing services.
“Rough sleeping is complex and I have tasked various members of my cabinet with tackling all the things which cause it. This includes Cllr Anna Keen leading on Feeding Bristol which is working to make sure no one in the city goes hungry, Cllr Helen Godwin working through our children’s centres to raise financial literacy levels and Cllr Asher Craig driving the Thrive Bristol mental health programme across the city.
“We need, as a city, to continue to find innovative and sustainable options to tackle rough sleeping and wider homelessness and this includes Cllr Paul Smith’s focus on building more affordable homes.
“With our partners we have recently established new ways to help people off the streets and we will also be concentrating on supporting those with the most complex needs who have previously struggled to engage with support.
“It is not acceptable that Bristol remains such an unequal city, with vulnerable people forced to live on the streets without any viable options.
“I would also encourage anyone who thinks they might be at risk of homelessness to take action as soon as possible. There are plenty of support services available and it is much easier to get help before you find yourself with nowhere to sleep at night.”
There has been a steady increase in rough sleeper numbers in Bristol over a period of five years. Street homelessness is also a major problem nationally. The rate of increase in Bristol has been slowed in the last 18 months by the creation of additional night shelters and implementing a more strategic approach through the Rough Sleeping Partnership.
Councillor Paul Smith, Cabinet Member for Homes and Communities, said:“Bristol has seen rising levels of homelessness since 2011 and we work closely with partners and communities to encourage households to come forward at an early stage so that we can help people to stay in their existing homes wherever possible. This increase in people rough sleeping is largely driven by changes to national welfare benefits, particularly housing benefit. Lack of social housing is also a major issue across the country.
“We are shifting our focus towards prevention and early intervention to try and avoid households getting in to crisis wherever we can. However, we still expect a significant rise in the number of households presenting to us as homeless in the coming years.
“Work on reducing homelessness is gathering pace and underpinning all of this is our work on increasing the development of new social and council housing and affordable housing is also gathering pace as we are on track to get to a development programme of 800 affordable homes per year by 2020.”
Over the next 12 months it is hoped that some new ways of working across the sector will have a positive impact on street homelessness in the city.
It is anticipated that the DCLG-funded Social Impact Bond (SiB) for long term rough sleepers and the recommissioned homelessness pathways will have some impact on rough sleeping in the city.
Through the new homelessness pathways, it is expected people will be better matched to the right level of supported accommodation enabling them to move through the pathway and on to settled accommodation more quickly.
Unfortunately, this may be partly offset by an increasingly unaffordable private rental sector, which will continue to have a negative impact on the ability to sustainably house former rough sleepers.
David Ingerslev, St Mungo’s Rough Sleeper Service Manager said: “Our outreach teams are out four times a day connecting with people who are rough sleeping. We offer people a safe route off the streets and support with housing, mental health, reducing alcohol and drug use. We will continue to do everything in our power to reduce rough sleeping. Bristol is in the grip of an affordable housing crisis with more people finding it difficult to stay in accommodation.
“Some people have complex support needs and even find it difficult to stay in supported housing. Another part to the Rough Sleeping Strategy is the introduction of the Social Impact Bond to be known locally as Street Impact Bristol. A partnership with Second Step, Bristol Drugs Project and St Mungo’s who will work with a fixed cohort of 125 named individuals over four years. Working with them individually and creatively to support them off the street, improve outcomes related to health, employment and training.
“The new Bristol Pathway introduced in November to reshape supported housing services will also look at the longer term accommodation support on offer to people. We hope these new ways of working will ensure people remain safer off the streets and are able to sustain their recovery.”
Between 1 November 2016 and 31 October 2017, 980 individuals were supported by St Mungo’s outreach team. Usually around 200 people are being supported by the outreach team at any one time, and the vast majority of people being supported will sleep rough only when they have no other options.
The Rough Sleeping Partnership was set up by Bristol City Council in 2015. The partnership is led by St Mungo’s and includes, Julian Trust, Crisis Centre Ministries, Caring in Bristol and the Golden Key Programme to address the problem of street homelessness in the city. The City Office has also made tackling homelessness a priority, and is working to bring extra resources from across the city to tackle the problem.
The partnership has opened a number of extra bed spaces over the last two years, including an assessment night centre, a shelter for people with low support needs and some guardianship properties.
What can we do as a community?
If you are concerned about someone who is rough sleeping ANYONE can make a street referral via Streetlink.org.uk giving the following information:
o the rough sleeper’s name (if known)
o physical description
o any distinguishing characteristics (e.g. colour of distinctive clothing/possessions/sleeping bag or distinctive accent)
o specific location where the person is sleeping
o Time they were seen
Safer off the Streets (#SOSBristol): The four charities that provide night shelters to support rough sleepers have come together to set up a single, online crowdfunding appeal that offers people the chance to donate a specific sum - £17 – to provide one bed for one night to a homeless person. https://www.fundsurfer.com/project/bristol-rough-sleeping-partnership
None of our night shelters can operate without the dedication of volunteers, and in Bristol, helping the homeless by giving up a night a week or a night a month is the best way. You can contact the charities directly:
• St Mungo’s: telephone 0117 954 2958 | website www.mungos.org
• Julian Trust: telephone 0117 924 4604 | website www.juliantrust.org.uk
• Crisis Centre Ministries: telephone 0117 330 1230 | website www.crisis-centre.org.uk
• Caring in Bristol telephone 0117 9244 444 | website www.caringinbristol.org.uk
Think you or a friend or family member might be at risk of homelessness? It is vital to seek advice as soon as possible. It is much easier to get the help you need before you find yourself homeless. Visit https://www.bristol.gov.uk/housing/homeless-or-at-risk-of-being-homeless for more information.
Taking early action can avoid reaching crisis point. There is good advice and guidance available online: CAB, MA. There are also advice and support services available in Bristol: ACFA, ACORN and Relate.