News / homelessness

Council reveals new approach to van dwellers and ‘tent villages’ in Bristol

By ellie pipe, Tuesday Aug 27, 2019

A steep rise in the number of people living in vehicles or tent encampments has prompted Bristol City Council to draw up a new official policy.

Among the proposals seeking cabinet approval on Tuesday, September 3, are enforcement measures and the potential use of 12-month injunctions in locations considered vulnerable or adversely affected by “high impact” encampments.

The report comes against a backdrop of a homelessness crisis in the city, fuelled by ever high rents, changes to welfare and a lack of affordable housing that forces people to opt for alternative ways of living, or sleeping rough.

Throughout 2018, the council’s rough sleeping service worked with 951 people who had no roof over their heads in Bristol.

In November last year, 82 long-term rough sleepers were recorded in the city – the fifth highest in the country and a figure that only really represents the “tip of the iceberg”.

Van dwellers that were staying on Greenbank Avenue were moved on last summer

Last summer, the new proposals around vehicle dwellers and encampments were announced by the council’s cabinet member for housing, Paul Smith, and two public consultations were held.

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Read more: Clamp down on ‘tent villages’ and van dwelling in Bristol

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The papers going to cabinet on Tuesday outline an approach that “aims to safeguard the health and wellbeing of those living on the highway and to reduce any negative impact on the wider community that encampments may have”.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Smith 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 report states that a blanket approach will not be adopted and, recognising that the issues surrounding homelessness are complex, each case will be assessed on an individual and proportional basis.

 

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Bristol has risen

Bristol City Council’s cabinet members will also be asked to approve a separate new five-year homelessness strategy that went out to public consultation in the spring.

This aims to address the issues that cause people to become homeless in the first place, while recognising the need for better services and housing provision for people who face homelessness.

The report states that a blanket approach will not be adopted and, recognising that the issues surrounding homelessness are complex, each case will be assessed on an individual and proportional basis.

Earlier this year, Bristol City Council pledged to focus “maximum efforts and resources to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eradicate it by 2027″ and put its draft Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy – written with input from the NHS, voluntary organisations, homeless charities and people with lived experience of homelessness and rough sleeping – out to public consultation.

Mayor Marvin Rees said: “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.”

Both reports will go before cabinet members for approval on Tuesday, September 3.

Read more: Bristol’s homelessness and rough sleeping strategy

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