Recently, Keep Bristol Warm relaunched with a new look website to help raise awareness about the city’s growing homelessness problem. “Homelessness [in Bristol] is on the rise for sure,” the group’s founder Gavyn Emery tells me. “More needs to be done at the point of nearly being homeless to stop people actually becoming homeless.
“There is no quick fix, but if Keep Bristol Warm can help while they are on the streets, then at least we are doing our bit to help at there all time low.”
Homelessness – not unlike Boris Johnson – is one of those problems that just won’t go away. In fact, not unlike the former mayor of London, it’s a problem that seems only to be growing over time.
After four years of George Ferguson – until May, Bristol’s elected mayor, and a man seemingly more obsessed with parking than the plight of the homeless – homelessness in the city has increased dramatically. In the last three years alone, the homeless population has increased by 90 per cent.
Councils including Derby, Slough, Kensington and Watford have seen significant decreases in the number of homeless people sleeping rough on their streets. In Bristol, though, the number of registered rough sleepers increased from eight in 2010, to 97 in 2015 – an increase of over 1200 per cent. Some 330 families are now in temporary accommodation.
While Ferguson argued that the solution was to get people working, it’s impossible to ignore the 18 per cent rise in rent that Bristol tenants experienced in 2015 alone. The only British city to suffer higher rent increases was Brighton.
But things may be starting to change for the better. A new cabinet put together by new Labour (though not necessarily New Labour) mayor Marvin Rees has pledged to tackle the city’s housing crisis head on. Councillor Paul Smith, the new cabinet member for homes and communities, says housing will be top of the new administration’s agenda.
“What we’ve seen is a lot of private landlords wanting to benefit from increased rent levels. To do that, many have pushed out their existing tenants who can’t afford those levels of rent,” Smith explains.
The key, he says, is to increase the supply of affordable housing – but that has been made tremendously more difficult by the Housing and Planning Act. “So, as a cabinet member, I’ve taken all of our land for housing off the market so that we can develop it ourselves, with partners. That way we can ensure affordable renting and social housing as well.”
Smith is also keen to address the fact that 550 of the city’s council properties are currently sitting empty – more than enough to house Bristol’s rough sleeping and homeless populations combined. “We are looking at a program to bring our empty properties back into use – most of them as council housing.
“If they’re empty we aren’t earning any rent on them, we aren’t earning any council tax on them and we are also paying for people to be in temporary accommodation,” he concludes. “Financially, it’s just madness.”
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