City leaders say the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated long-term ambitions to end rough sleeping in Bristol, but they are calling for support from Westminster.
Marvin Rees has joined Labour colleagues in calling on the Government not to blow a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to really make a difference to the lives of people facing homelessness, warning that we cannot return to business as usual.
In a letter to the Government, the mayor, along with Bristol West MP and shadow secretary of housing Thangam Debbonaire and party leader Keir Starmer, say they need certainty over future funding arrangements to ensure rough sleepers do not end up back on the streets.
Bristol City Council says it is continuing to explore all longer-term options for the 260 people who have been housed in hotels and temporary accommodation under the Government’s emergency scheme. It has put a call out to private sector landlords and student housing providers for help.
A new £5,000 grant is also available from money raised through the Tap For Bristol scheme, which will be used by mental health charity Second Step to help set 50 people up with personal budgets to buy essential items when they move on into new homes. A second grant of £5,000 will go towards funding a money advisor and a housing advisor through Caring in Bristol, working in partnership with local housing advice service CHAS and debt advice charity Talking Money.
The number of people forced to sleep rough in Bristol increased by 1125 per cent between 2010 and 2019, according to figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. There are concerns about a further spike when the economic impact of coronavirus hits.
Bristol City Council has not been confirmed how long the funding to keep people in emergency accommodation will last with the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ policy set to end and no commitment as to what happens next, especially for those ineligible for public funds.
“Austerity and welfare changes drove homelessness up for ten years, and the economic pressure of the coronavirus pandemic cannot be allowed to do the same for another generation,” said Rees.
“With our collaborative One City Approach, we are working tirelessly to provide homeless citizens with suitable accommodation. Together, we will continue to tackle the housing crisis and rebuild a better Bristol.
“Nationally, Thangam, Keir, and fellow Labour mayors are right to highlight that the Government should seize the opportunity to end rough sleeping in this country.”
While more than 5,000 rough sleepers across the UK have a roof over their heads, city leaders say this is a once in a generation opportunity to provide the integrated support that could help them move off the streets for good – but resources and funding are needed.
The Labour politicians are also calling for policy changes for those with no recourse to public funds, and changes to Local Housing Allowance and Housing Benefit to help support rough sleepers into longer-term accommodation and provide ‘wrap-around support’ to help them stay there.
The letter says: “We restate today our commitment to doing everything in our power to ensure that no one who has been helped off the streets during this period is forced to return. That includes non-UK nationals who wouldn’t normally be able to access welfare and other support.
“But to achieve this we need the government to make the same pledge – and to back it up with actions. Warm words are worth nothing to those who were sleeping on the streets, and people across the country will not forgive us if this opportunity is missed.
“When this crisis is over, we cannot return to business as usual. Rough sleepers, some of whom are receiving support for the first time, have been brought safely off the streets. We cannot let that progress go to waste.”
The council’s One City Move-on Project aims to significantly reduce homelessness by increasing the supply of affordable move-on accommodation and by providing the support they need to keep their tenancies and stay in that accommodation.
A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated our long-term ambitions to end rough sleeping in the city and to provide affordable move-on accommodation in Bristol so that no one has to return to the street.
“We are continuing to explore all available options for longer-term housing, including calling on private landlords who may have properties to rent to work with us to increase the city’s affordable move-on accommodation.”
Bristol24/7 asked for more details of additional support being offered to people moving on from temporary hotel accommodation and how long funding is expected to last but has not yet received any further information from the council.
Main photo courtesy of Caring in Bristol