By Will Charley, Comment Editor
The number of individuals who came into contact with Bristol City Council’s rough sleeping teams has increased 23 per cent, from 771 people in 2017 to 951 in 2018, a rate of increase above the national average.
The increase in homelessness is likely to be higher since the numbers do not include those who are in temporary accommodation, are squatting or are ‘sofa-surfing’.
This is in line with data released by national homeless charity Shelter in November 2018, which revealed that across the UK, there has been a rise in homelessness by 13,000 individuals, or 14 per cent.
However, according to Shelter’s 2017/18 annual review, homelessness in the south west of England has fallen by eight per cent. This might suggest that those who are homeless across the country and in the south west are travelling to Bristol for its services, rather than an increase in Bristolians who are homeless.
Significantly, of the 951 people the council’s rough sleeping teams came across in Bristol, roughly a quarter were foreign nationals, which is an increase in the proportion of homeless migrants compared to that of 2017. As well as this, 362 individuals - almost two in five - had no specific connection to Bristol in 2018.
Responding to evidence that homelessness has risen by almost a quarter in a year, the Chair of the Bristol Homes Board, Councillor Paul Smith called the situation ‘deeply depressing’.
In particular, Cllr Smith stated that there are many causes for the rise in homelessness but attributed much blame to the Government’s ‘benefit sanctions’ on individuals who miss appointments or fail to answer phone calls.
Cllr Smith stated that: ‘there have always been different reasons why people end up on the streets… the difference now is that the safety net that has always existed for those people at times of crisis in their lives is no longer there. It’s been replaced by a tightrope and it’s very easy for them to fall off’.
This echoes a statement put out by Shelter’s Chief Executive, Polly Neate, in November, who stated that ‘due to the perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing, record numbers of people are sleeping out on the streets’.
‘it is clear people come to Bristol because they know there is support here’
However, on a local level, Cllr Paul Smith stated that to solve the increase in Bristol, other local authorities need to do as much as Bristol City Council. As he put it, ‘it is clear people come to Bristol because they know there is support here’.
Of the 951 people who were encountered in 2018 by Bristol City Council’s rough sleeping teams, 53 per cent were found accommodation, around 30 percent were not seen again, seven per cent returned to where they had a local connection and five per cent were assisted in returning to their country of origin.
A spokesperson on behalf of the University of Bristol’s Help the Homeless Society told Epigram that:
‘The best thing that we can do as students to help is to get involved with the many charities and initiatives throughout Bristol. Many run projects through the University, and don't require massive time commitments - for more information please get in contact or have a look on our group for our list of Bristol homelessness charities, what they do, and how to get in contact.’
Featured image: James Cleaver / Epigram
Do you think the University is doing enough to combat homeless in the city? Let us know below!