Bristol City Council has launched two consultations to help formalise its approach to managing vehicle dwelling and rough sleeping encampments in the city.
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.
Two new draft policies have been drawn up to formalise the current approaches to managing our public spaces and provide people with the support they need to move away from the street.
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. 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."
Whilst the consultations are happening simultaneously the two approaches are distinct, recognising that individual circumstances and needs can often be very complex and that there can’t be a one-size-fits all approach.
Both consultations will run alongside each other, with people having the opportunity to comment on one or both policies.
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.
The rough sleeping encampment draft policy recommends that the council works with St Mungo’s to provide an improved joined-up outreach offer to people stuck sleeping rough on the streets of Bristol.
People who have set up encampments in and around the city centre would be given a written offer of an unconditional bed space starting that night for a week and further support towards a route off the street. During the unconditional week the outreach team would offer assessments and would agree a longer stay if needed.
Many people are currently not ready to engage and are turning down the support offered to them. As part of this proposed new approach, people will be able to take two bags of possessions with them, with all other items stored.
The notices and support offered would build on the current offer to people who are sleeping rough and camping in Bristol’s parks and open spaces. This would lead to a single joined-up approach across the city.
The council and its partners remain committed to addressing the problem of homelessness and reducing rough sleeping – eventually to zero - in the city.
The vehicle dwelling encampment policy recognises that each situation needs to be assessed on a case by case basis.
It introduces more formal monitoring of encampments and assesses what impact an encampment is having – this includes considerations such as whether the encampment is peaceful, how many vehicles there are, what impact there is on the local community, whether there’s anti-social behaviour or illegal activities and how long an encampment is likely to stay. The impact of the encampment will determine the action taken.
Welfare assessments will take place to ensure that support can be offered where it is needed.
Councillor Smith added: “Part of supporting people is challenging them to take up an offer that is not always their first choice.
“As with other cities and towns in the UK we are currently experiencing high levels of rough sleeping and there has also been a steep increase in people sleeping in vehicles around the city.
“Both these situations are complex and we need, as a city, to continue to find innovative and sustainable options to tackle these issues.
“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.
“We are working hard to make sure that those who are homeless are supported to access help and accommodation in the city. This support offer is now being enhanced to make sure that everyone is offered a bed for the night.
“We understand the need for people to stay warm and dry when they are rough sleeping. However, when people are sleeping in tents or other structures, the outreach team often find it difficult to engage with them and this can prevent or delay helping people into accommodation. We have found that people in tents have been more open to abuse and exploitation. We have to encourage people to engage with these services and get their lives back together.”
Across the sector, organisations are also working on providing a more creative solution to day services for homeless people to try and make sure there is a safe space for rough sleepers to visit during the hours when the shelters are not operational.
David Ingerslev, St Mungo’s Rough Sleeping Services Manager, said: “Our outreach teams go out up to four times a day to connect with people who are rough sleeping. We assess the needs of the person and offer people an appropriate route off the streets. This could be staying with friends or family, returning to existing accommodation or, if there is no better alternative, an emergency space in one of the cities four night shelters. We then offer further support to achieve sustainable housing and rebuild a fulfilling life.
“It’s important to recognise that sometimes people are not ready to engage with the support available. Our teams continue to connect with people until they feel ready to come inside and accept the offer of support; this can take a few weeks, a few months and in some rare cases people may not engage for years. However we believe everyone is able to recover from homelessness. We never give up on anyone and we keep trying different approaches until we can build a relationship and support the person to leave the streets.
“Recovery from homelessness can be a long, hard journey. It is rarely a quick fix. The increased visibility of people living on our streets is shocking and we will continue to go out and offer people somewhere safe to stay, an opportunity to rebuild their lives and long term support to sustain a life away from the streets.”
The consultations launched today (June 29) and will run for eight weeks. You can find out more about the policies and tell us what you think online:
• For rough sleeping visit www.bristol.gov.uk/roughsleeping.
• For vehicle dwelling visit www.bristol.gov.uk/vehicledwelling.
Alternative formats or paper copies of the information can be requested by emailing email@example.com or calling 0117 922 2066. Paper copies will also be available from local libraries and the Citizen Service Point at 100 Temple Street.
Consultations close on Sunday August 26, 2018
We are also providing one main drop-in session at City Hall for anyone interested in these issues. It will be held on Wednesday 1 August 6.30pm-8pm
There will also be specific drop-in opportunities for both those living in vehicles and people sleeping rough to come and talk about the approach the council is proposing to take.