By Christina Park, Fourth Year, English (Exchange Student)
Due to the short supply of housing combined with the rising costs of renting post-COVID-19, homelessness is on the rise in Bristol. This is reflective of the broader issue of increasing homelessness throughout the country, with record numbers of people now living in temporary accommodation in England.
Just under 300,000 households in England needed support from local authorities because they were homeless or at risk of homelessness in March 2023, according to the latest government figures.
According to a recent report by the Insight, Performance and Intelligence Service of the Bristol City Council, at the end of March 2022, there were 1,153 households living in temporary accommodation in Bristol.
Figures released by the charity Shelter revealed that, on any given night last year, just shy of 3000 people in Bristol were homeless.
Around 134,000 people in Bristol depend on the private rental sector, and the city has seen the average rent growing by 12.9% each year
On top of this, research done by the Dying Homeless project — led by the Museum of Homelessness — revealed that Bristol was the third worst area for homeless deaths in the UK, with 28 deaths in 2021 compared to 18 the year before.
An investigation by the LCG (Local Government Chronicle) found that rising inflation has caused landlords to leave the housing market, subsequently diminishing supply. Around 134,000 people in Bristol depend on the private rental sector, and the city has seen average rent prices grow by 12.9% each year. As well as being priced out of the rental market, factors such as family and friends no longer being able to provide a place to stay, domestic abuse, and other violence or harassment related issues were all cited as reasons for homelessness by Bristol City Council.
The increase in homelessness is closely linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of households placed into temporary accommodation has doubled since 2020, with no indication when, or if, it will return to pre-pandemic levels.
Our Caring at Christmas team are looking for people who can provide additional services to our guests who are experiencing homelessness. If you can help by volunteering your skills and some time during the day the team would love to hear from you— Caring in Bristol (@caringinbristol) November 11, 2023
The Covid-19 pandemic nearly helped to end homelessness in the UK. The government's investment of £3.2 million in emergency support, introduced days before the first national lockdown in March 2020, helped move rough sleepers off the street and into temporary accommodation. Yet, once funding for the scheme was discontinued in July of 2020, thousands were forced back onto the streets.
While The Bristol City Council’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy, contains a detailed plan to combat homelessness in the city, pressures facing renters have increased in recent years, in part due to the growing discrepancy between housing benefits and actual rent prices. According to Tom Renhard, the Bristol City councillor responsible for housing, rental prices have been steadily increasing, although the cap for housing allowance has not risen since 2019.
Renhard told LCG:, ‘We’re seeing more families going into temporary accommodation than has been the case historically […] not enough social housing is being built in this country.’
‘Our autumn numbers are up 20% in comparison to last year […] We are currently serving up to 100+ people every Saturday if it’s dry, and about 50 people in the rain.’
Renhard isn't the only one calling for action from the government. Hastings councillor Paul Barnet reported to a local newspaper that the government was ‘Dragging their feet […] failing to introduce rent controls or an end to no fault evictions’ from Section 21.
Caring in Bristol’s mission is to work ‘Towards a city empowered to solve homelessness’ and to ‘Bring about lasting change in Bristol’. Speaking to Epigram, Alv Hirst, Storytelling Coordinator at the organisation, offered further insight on the reasons for the rising levels of homelessness. He said that the cost-of-living crisis has made it increasingly difficult for individuals and families, especially as landlords have been issuing no-fault evictions.
‘Underrepresented groups, such as people of colour, people with disabilities, carers and refugees are disproportionately represented among the homeless population’, continued Alv.
He went on to say that younger people are often more susceptible to becoming homeless because of lower incomes, limited access to benefits and family breakdowns. Indeed, a local report found the 18-25 and 25-34 age groups, as well as Black, African and Caribbean people, were overrepresented amongst the homeless population.
Caring in Bristol has seen a rising number of people seeking help, and their work is only possible because of the support of volunteers, local businesses, community groups. Between recent donations and a National Lottery grant, they are working towards opening more shelters for vulnerable young people.
Epigram also spoke to StreetLife, a member of the Bristol Homeless Forum, which focuses on outreach work. They feed, clothe and refer rough sleepers to the relevant help and available services.
Richard Townsend, the leader of Street Life commented that the number of rough sleepers seems to be constantly growing, with many left with ‘Little hope of getting housed anytime soon’. This is in concordance with JSNA’s report that ‘the monthly rough sleeper hotspot returns in Bristol have remained static since 2021.’
Streetlife also emphasised that homelessness is rising, ‘Our autumn numbers are up 20% in comparison to last year […] We are currently serving up to 100+ people every Saturday if it’s dry, and about 50 people in the rain.’ They highlighted the importance of volunteers, with people from City Church and other community groups coming together to help fight homelessness.
Homelessness has many systematic causes. We can all help by acknowledging this, so that individuals are not stigmatised or blamed
‘There are several roles behind the scenes and on the street. There is a role for everyone, young and old’ said Townsend when asked about how the public can help fight homelessness. These roles include sorting clothing, cooking meals and providing sandwich packs.
Hirst also commented, ‘Homelessness has many systematic causes. We can all help by acknowledging this, so that individuals are not stigmatised or blamed and that decision-makers, both locally and nationally, can ensure that systems are designed to provide safe, secure, affordable homes for everyone.’
Featured Image: Unsplash / Levi Meir Clancy
What more can be done to tackle homelessness in Bristol?