Cabinet to consider updated approach to homelessness in the city: Homelessness strategy

27 Aug 2019

Cabinet to consider updated approach to homelessness in the city

Bristol City Council’s Cabinet are being asked to approve an updated approach to supporting homeless people in the city.

The new five year Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy aims to help prevent homelessness and enable Bristol to become a city where nobody sleeps rough.

The draft strategy has been shaped by a number of organisations including Bristol City Council, the NHS, voluntary organisations, homeless charities and people with lived experience of homelessness and rough sleeping. A public consultation was also held earlier this year.

The draft strategy focuses on preventing people becoming homeless in the first place, but also outlines increased efforts to assist people sleeping rough in the city and offer them pathways off the streets and into secure housing.

Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees said: “Officers have worked closely with organisations across the sector, and those with lived experience of homelessness, to develop this strategy and have also consulted with the public before bringing this to Cabinet for us to consider.

“Tackling homelessness in all its forms, not just rough sleeping, remains one of our top priorities, and if approved, this new strategy will set out our plans for the next five years.

“No one should sleep on the streets and we are working together in Bristol on a One City approach to ending homelessness through both short term solutions and long term change.

“Homelessness is an extremely complex problem and we need, as a city, to continue to find innovative and sustainable options to tackle the issues behind it.”

Over the last five years, Bristol has worked hard to make preventing homelessness a top priority. In 2017-18 the council prevented 728 households from becoming homeless.

However, everyone knows that much more needs to be done to tackle the issue and the new strategy sets out how the council proposes build on this good work and improve the support available.

Alongside this, Cabinet is also being asked to approve two new policies that formalise how the council will deal with street dwelling encampments in the city.

The city faces significant challenges, as vehicle dwelling, rough sleeping and the number of people at risk of homelessness have all increased. High rents, welfare reform and a lack of affordable housing have combined with a range of specific individual circumstances, and the situation needs to be addressed.

Last year, the council held two consultations to help establish its approach to managing rough sleeping and vehicle dwelling encampments in the city, balancing the need to protect public spaces with providing people with the support they need to move away from the street.

The draft policies take into account the fact that rough sleeping and living in a vehicle can be very different circumstances, and for some people, vehicle dwelling is a life style choice.

However, the council has a duty of care to everyone living in the city and does not believe that sleeping on the streets or in a vehicle is a safe, long term option.

The draft policies recognise that individual circumstances and needs can often be very complex and that there can’t be a one-size-fits all approach.

Councillor Paul Smith, Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “Sleeping on the streets or in a vehicle is not a safe, long term solution and our priority is to get people into suitable accommodation. We cannot support camping or sleeping rough within our public spaces as we have a duty to protect these areas to make sure they are available for everyone.

“Tackling encampments and rough sleeping requires a holistic approach, which includes the use of enforcement activities where necessary, and sometimes involves encouraging people to take up an offer that is not always their first choice.

“Our aim is to have a fair process that is able to support people to improve their situation, but at the same time effectively deal with any associated anti-social behaviour. It is important to have an approach that is both compassionate and rigorous.

“One of the main challenges we face in meeting the needs of those sleeping on the streets or in vehicles is the shortage of affordable housing in Bristol and specifically private rented accommodation affordable to people on housing benefit. And that is why we have prioritised working with a range of partners to accelerate the construction of affordable housing across the city.”

The Cabinet reports can be found here