Since the official count, which took place in November, the amount of people found on the streets has fallen further, with 21 people recorded rough sleeping in January, with Bristol’s positive action to get people off the streets during the COVID-19 pandemic driving the change.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Bristol City Council has helped around 1,400 people rough sleeping or homeless to move into emergency accommodation, and continues to take every opportunity to reach out to help those who need it most.
The authority remains committed to making sure as many people as possible do not return to, or end up on, the streets, despite the warning of a potential new wave of homelessness following the end of the eviction ban, and other economic impacts from the pandemic.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “I would like to thank all of our staff and partners for working so hard, in such difficult circumstances, to get so many people in off the streets. We were given an opportunity to house more people than we usually would be able to, and we were able to engage with people and find them the help and support they need to move on to the next stage of their lives.
“The pandemic has fast-tracked our ambitions to end rough sleeping in the city and we remain committed to securing suitable, affordable move-on accommodation to avoid seeing people return to rough sleeping. However, we need government support to make this possible.
“However, we are well aware that we are still in need of a long-term solution. We are anticipating higher levels of homelessness when the impacts of the pandemic hit home for many people.
“We know that we need to reduce the number of people living in temporary accommodation, and the only long-term solution to this problem is to build more affordable housing. This is something we continue to focus on as we develop and progress our own council house programme, and support partners to build more affordable homes across the city.
“There remains a lot of support and services available for people who are rough sleeping, or at risk of homelessness, and I would encourage people to take that first step to reach out and get help.”
There are currently more than 1,000 people placed in temporary accommodation in the city, a figure that is growing every week, and which is unsustainable in the long term.
Throughout the pandemic the council has been supporting people it is not usually able to house, including asylum seekers and European Economic Area (EEA) nationals, but funding for this emergency accommodation will finish at the end of March. The council is currently working with city partners to look at how we can continue to support these people once this funding comes to an end.
Securing new move on accommodation remains a top priority, with the council currently looking to provide new supported move on accommodation across the city.
Councillor Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Homes, said: “We have received funding from the government throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including money through the Protect Programme, which allows us to target those who are clinically vulnerable, but these funds have not covered the full costs of Everyone In in Bristol. In addition, government grants are often only short term, making it difficult for us to plan for the future and commission services. Without government support there will be rough sleepers returning to our streets from 1 April.
“Despite this, we remain committed to supporting as many people as possible, and aim to continue funding our current services. Alongside this, we are looking to apply for additional funding to improve our current services and fill any potential gaps in the system.
“Whilst we have had success in helping those who want it, to move into more permanent accommodation, we must remember that homelessness is complex, and not everyone wants the support offered. We review plans weekly and have options to leave the streets for everyone sleeping rough.
“We need to continue to work with people to make sure they are seeking advice and support as early as they can, especially in light of new hardships caused by the pandemic, so, where possible, we can prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.”
Working with partners, the council offers a range of prevention services including a welfare rights and money advice service and a Youth Homelessness hub (Bristol Youth MAPS) to help young people to stay with their families where possible.
Gareth Mercer, St Mungo’s Manager for Rough Sleeping Services in Bristol, said: “These figures are a real testament to the sheer hard work and tenacity of our teams in Bristol who have been working flat out throughout the pandemic to support people away from the streets into safe accommodation.
“Undeniably, the pandemic has given us an unprecedented opportunity to build relationships with people on the streets who previously have, for their own reasons, preferred not to engage with our teams. We have seen many people connect, for the first time, with vital services in Bristol to support with drug and alcohol use, mental health, physical health and wellbeing.
“However, we know that homelessness is not a static issue. With the economic downturn and increased unemployment it is more important than ever that we are able to provide rapid support to get people off the streets and, importantly, into suitable long-term accommodation.
“It has been a privilege to be part of such a ground breaking and collaborative response to the crisis, and shows just what can be achieved when homelessness organisations, local government and health services work together. It is vital that we take this emergency response and translate it into a new approach that will help us move towards an end to rough sleeping.”
If you 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/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.