By Jonnie Angel, Wild Goose Drop-In Manager
Ten years ago, Bristol City Council reported that they had zero rough sleepers. Eight years ago, if someone approached Crisis Centre Ministries to find emergency accommodation for that evening, we would have been able to find a shelter space after a few phone calls. Today, it is more likely that there would be no shelter available for rough sleepers. So the question is ‘What has happened between then and now?’
The most important point to understand is that the current situation has evolved over a period of time. A number of factors have influenced this, but the two main contributors have been the encouragement for home ownership and year on year financial cuts in Government spending. During the mayoral elections a few years ago, rough sleeping and homelessness was one of the subjects for the various hustings. I was asked by the local media whether we were in a crisis in respect of homelessness, to which I responded “No, we are at the start of a crisis which will increase before we see decrease.” With the growing number of encampments around the city at the time, Bristol was starting to look like more like a third world city.
The good news is that since last year’s election of the Mayor, Marvin Rees, there has been a drive to reduce rough sleeping and homelessness in our city, with a number of initiatives already being implemented: ‘100 beds in 100 days,’ the Churches’ Winter Night shelter, the Safer off the Streets campaign, and the provision of a dedicated assessment centre with additional shelter accommodation.
The latest official street count of rough sleepers remains around 75 people, although it is estimated that there could be up to 180 people rough sleeping currently in Bristol.
‘Why isn’t more being done?’ you may ask. The answer to this question is straight forward, however the solution is not so.
Bristol is currently the third most affluent city in the UK with the fifth highest challenge around homelessness. Ironic maybe, but one does impact the other. As the city has grown economically, attracting larger businesses, the demand for housing has increased. Therefore property prices and rents have increased, which has priced people on lower incomes out of the market. This can be seen particularly in the increase in people who are working, but who do not have a home. Evictions of those on lower incomes or housing allowance have increased substantially, including families, couples and single people. This has put a high demand on the limited accommodation available from the council, whilst also reducing the stock available to the public sector within the private sector. It’s simple, really: the demand far outweighs the supply with diminishing affordable stock.
The current situation is that the majority of housing pathways are full with limited availability at the places of entry and exit. The impact on those who find themselves in this situation is lack of hope, frustration and a downward spiral of emotional, physical and mental health.
So what can we do? There are a number of initiatives currently being explored through the city office in respect of providing additional housing stock. These initiatives might take up to three years before the stock becomes available. This a medium to long term solution.
The immediate and short term solution is the provision of night shelters. I would encourage you to explore how you may be able to help as there are current opportunities as well as potential new ones. The harsh reality is that there are insufficient volunteers to run the existing night shelters. This creates caution in providing additional ones. Could you and additional members of your church commit to supporting existing services on a regular basis? Have a look at our list of ways to help to see how you could be part of the housing solution.
Ways to help
- Donate into a deposit scheme to help people into the private rented sector
- Volunteer at an existing shelter in the city
- Explore ways that your church/organisation could acquire/finance property to house people.
- Partner with CCM as we explore acquiring property to house the homeless
- Offer your spare room to help someone who is homeless for a short time
The Christian Action Bristol website also lists many ways in which you can help in this and other social action areas. Alternatively, do get in touch with CCM on 0117 330 1230 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Prayer and financial support are also always needed. However, I do firmly believe that God our Father is currently challenging His church to give our time and practical support. Matthew 25: 1-46 is a passage that has stayed with me over the last twelve months or so. I would encourage you to read and meditate on it. As a nation we see poverty overseas as our mission field. Let us not be deaf and blind to the needs in our own city and country.