Bristol’s escalating housing crisis has given rise to a dramatic increase in rough sleeping across the city.
Whether it be small encampments of tents set up in parks and verges, or communities living in vehicles at the side of the road, more people than ever have been forced to find ways to survive out on the streets.
Bristol City Council is now seeking to implement two new policies specifically to deal with rough sleepers and ‘van dwellers’. These include ‘robust’ enforcement powers to move people on in areas where there are problems with antisocial behaviour, as well as offers of support.
“We have got a growing issue in Bristol of people finding all sorts of ways of living, given the housing crisis,” said Paul Smith, the council’s cabinet member for housing.
“There is a concern that we have been dealing with these things on an ad hoc basis, so the purpose of this consultation is to go out to the public and find a consistent approach that respects everybody, including people sleeping rough, those in vehicles and people who live or work near these encampments.”
The council has launched two separate eight-week consultations and is asking the public for feedback on the proposed policies.
Under the proposals, people will be offered an unconditional seven nights emergency accommodation in one of the city’s night shelters, with the ultimate aim of supporting them to move off the streets.
‘Van dwellers’ will be subjected to more formal monitoring and assessed on a case by case basis, with those causing antisocial problems targeted with enforcement action.
“We start from the view that sleeping rough on the streets of Bristol is dangerous,” continued Smith. “We also do not feel that living in vehicles long term is a realistic proposition for most people.
“We in no way want to victimise or criminalise people because they find themselves in a difficult position. We are doing this to protect people, not to attack them.
“The more hidden people are, the more difficult we find it to engage with them and the more open they are to exploitation.”
There are currently 65 emergency beds for homeless people across the city. A new shelter is due to open this autumn, thanks to a government grant of more than £500,000, which will bump the number up to 107.
But Smith has acknowledged the dire need for more housing and that many people slip through the net, saying he desperately wants to fix the system (nationally) but in the meantime, the council has to do what it can with resources available.
St Mungo’s homeless charity is supporting the implementation of more formal, consistent policies.
David Ingerslev, the charity’s rough sleeping services manager, said: “Sleeping rough is really dangerous – it affects people’s physical and mental health.
“It’s important to recognise that sometimes people are not ready to engage with the support available. 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.”
Smith acknowledged that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will not work, as people’s reasons for sleeping rough, or in vehicles are varied and complex.
He promised that those living in legally parked vehicles, causing no antisocial issues, will not be targeted, but both St Mungo’s and the council want to discourage people from doing so and have no plans to provide any more permanent suitable sites in the city.
The consultations both launch on Friday, June 29 and will run for eight weeks, closing on Sunday, August 26.
View and complete the consultation for rough sleepers via: www.bristol.citizenspace.com/communities/rough-sleeping-encampments-consultation/.
View and complete the consultation for rough sleepers via: www.bristol.citizenspace.com/communities/vehicle-dwelling-encampments/.
Alternative formats or paper copies can be requested by emailing neighbourhoods&communities@ bristol.gov.uk or calling 0117 922 2066. Paper copies will also be available from local libraries and the Citizen Service Point at 100 Temple Street.
The council is hosting drop in sessions for the people who will be directly affected by the policies, as well as handing out postcards with details.
Drop in times for rough sleepers:
• The Compass Centre, Jamaica St: Wednesday, July 18, 2pm-5pm.
• The Compass Centre, Jamaica St: Tuesday, July 24, 5pm-7pm.
• The Wild Goose, Stapleton Rd: Thursday, July 26, 1.30pm-3.30pm.
• The Compass Centre: Monday, July 30, 12pm-3pm.
Drop in times for vehicle dwellers/local community:
• Romney House, Romney Avenue: Wednesday, July 4, 3.30pm-7.30pm.
• St Anne’s Church, Saint Leonard’s Road: Tuesday, July 17, 3.30pm-7.30pm.
• St Werburghs Community Centre, Horley Road: Saturday, July 21, 10.30pm-1pm.