Letters from people who have been homeless are popping up around the city in a bid to reach out to people in similar situations.
The letters aimed not only at rough sleepers, but those at risk of becoming homeless, include pleas from the authors to access help available from the council and other support services.
The campaign aims to encourage people to take the first step of accepting support – a barrier one of the letter writers knows is hard to overcome.
John said: “At 17 I started sleeping rough and was addicted to drugs. At that time all I had was my bedding, nothing else.
“There were a lot of services trying to help me, but at that point, I wasn’t ready. Thankfully people didn’t give up on me.
“After 13 years on the streets I tackled my addiction and got into supported housing. I am living proof that there is a different life for you. You just need to be ready to reach out and take it.”
In another letter Danni, aged 24, shares how an abusive childhood found her living in hostels and vulnerable. She says: “I eventually reached out for help. I’m in a much better place now and even have hopes and dreams for the future. I could have given up a number of times, but I’m still here, and I am still fighting.”
One of the key messages of the campaign is how important it is to get help early. 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. These interventions stopped more than 3,600 people from becoming homeless in 2018.
In the same year organisations collectively helped more than 900 people who were homeless, via a range of support services including the successful St Anne’s Winter Night Shelter.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, has made tackling the issue of homelessness a top priority and is working with partners to continue reducing the number of rough sleepers by ensuring everyone has a safe place to sleep.
He said: “I would like to thank John, Lola and Danni for being brave enough to share their stories, and I hope it will encourage other people to take that first step towards getting help and turning their lives around.
“These three very different experiences help us to understand that there is no one size fits all solution. Homelessness is complex, and everyone’s individual circumstances are different. We are working with a wide range of partners to end homelessness in Bristol, but one of the most important messages I want people to take from this campaign is get help early.
“There is a lot of support and services available that could help keep you in your home, but the longer you leave it, the more difficult it becomes. If you are worried about your situation, or about someone close to you, please do reach out for help.”
In line with the challenge nationally, Bristol has seen an increase of people sleeping rough over the past five years and the last quarterly counts have found an average of 117 sleeping rough on the street.
Councillor Paul Smith, Cabinet member for Housing said: “Homelessness is not restricted to the people we can see sleeping on the streets. We have families in temporary accommodation, individuals staying in hostels and many more people we don’t know about sofa surfing or sleeping in unsafe buildings.
“Ending homelessness in all its forms is one of our top priorities, and we want everyone to know that help is available.”
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.
To read Danni, Lola or John’s full story visit www.bristol.gov.uk/i-was-homeless