Bristol has strengthened its commitment towards ending rough sleeping in the city by becoming one of the first areas in the country to sign up to Homeless Link’s #SupportDontDeport pledge against government changes to immigration rules.
Homeless Link, the national membership charity for organisations working directly with people who become homeless in England, believe the new regulations - making rough sleeping grounds for refusing or cancelling a person’s leave to remain in the UK - will make the fight against homelessness more difficult than ever.
Bristol City Council has joined local authorities and homelessness organisations in deciding not to proactively refer people to the authorities under the changes brought in by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in October of last year.
As of 5 July, 88 organisations have signed the pledge, including eight local authorities.
The charity has urged government to scrap the new rules as they fear that the policy will drive people that are already vulnerable, such as victims of modern slavery, away from the support they require and hamper the efforts to bring an end to rough sleeping.
Bristol’s decision to back the pledge was included within a Golden Motion moved by Councillor Tom Renhard, the Cabinet member for Housing Delivery and Homes, and passed at last night’s (Tuesday, 6 July) Full Council meeting.
The council will also not require any of its commissioned homelessness partners to make referrals or pass data to the Home Office under the rules and has pledged to only share information with the consent of the individual.
Councillor Renhard said: “To continue our push to end rough sleeping, those experiencing homelessness must be able to approach services provided by the council and its partners with confidence that they will be supported and not deported. We fear these immigration rules would have the opposite impact.
“Those facing homelessness could be dissuaded from accessing those services for fear that their details will be passed to immigration authorities, leading to an increase in rough sleeping.
“We are proud of Bristol’s status as a City of Sanctuary and the work we are doing to make Bristol a welcoming place for refugees and our view is that any information should only be shared after the person in question has been given proper legal advice and given their informed consent.
“Non UK citizens who are sleeping rough can spend months or years waiting to hear back from the Home Office in order to resolve their status and we are continuing to work with a range of local and national partners, including central government and our commissioned partner St Mungo’s, to find ways of supporting people to move off the streets regardless of their migration status.
“We have worked tirelessly alongside our partners over the last 15 months to keep people who are sleeping rough safe during the pandemic. This included helping around 1,500 people who were rough sleeping or homeless, to move into emergency accommodation.
“This has resulted in a significant reduction the number of people sleeping rough in the city, showing the impact strong partnership approaches can have. However, we know there is still a considerable amount of work to be done to end rough sleeping altogether.”
Rick Henderson, CEO at the national homelessness membership charity Homeless Link, said: “I’d like to congratulate Bristol Council for taking a stand and putting the wellbeing of people it supports above anything else. In many cases, people sleeping rough have experienced significant trauma in their lives. As a result, they often have multiple, complex needs such as mental health issues and issues with drugs and/or alcohol. This can make it hard for people to engage with services and take up offers of support. It should never be grounds for changing someone’s immigration status.
“The nuances and intricacies of policies like these often aren’t understood well on the ground. We fear that, if local authorities and homelessness charities don’t take a clear stand on this issue, fear around deportation could prevent many of society's most vulnerable people from accessing support. Bristol Council’s commitment has confirmed this won’t be the case in its local authority area.”