Today’s blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes and Labour Councillor for Horfield.
This marks my first blog and I am pleased to be able to focus it on such an important issue.
My background is in housing and mental health campaigning, helping to build power for some of the most disenfranchised people in our communities. Ensuring the voices of those with lived experience are enabled, heard and embedded within all that we do is vital. For that to have even a chance of happening, there needs to be trust.
24 July marks the ten-year anniversary of Bristol’s status as a City of Sanctuary, a city that’s committed to being a ‘welcoming place for all’. We’re immensely proud of this, and Bristol’s recognition as an open, inclusive, supportive, city.
It’s a mindset that is often in stark contrast to the current Government’s, which was reiterated on Tuesday. Bristol City Council voted to pass a motion that commits the Council not to follow the Home Office guidance that uses rough sleeping as reason to cancel someone’s leave to remain in the UK.
This guidance requires the Council and its partners to refer rough sleepers to the Home Office and other relevant authorities, which could result in them losing their leave to remain, and consequently being deported from the UK.
It should go without saying that myself, the Mayor, and the rest of the Labour Group found this guidance hard to stomach. Bristol is renowned as being a welcoming, progressive, city and this guidance could not be in starker contrast to that.
As well as being callous, it does nothing to help tackle homelessness in Bristol. We need people at risk of homelessness to have the trust and confidence to approach the Council and its partners for help – why would any of our migrant community do that if it puts them at risk of being deported?
We’re proud to pass this motion in favour of the #SupportDontDeport campaign which has been championed by Homeless Link. If someone calls Bristol their home, they should be able to access the same support mechanisms as UK-born citizens and not face the threat of deportation – I don’t think this should be a controversial point.
Our administration has been working to tackle homelessness by addressing the causes of homeless and we’re succeeding. We’ve overseen an 80% decrease in the level of rough sleeping, and this is no doubt in part due to the fact we’re improving access to support services, building social housing, and supporting people on low incomes.
As well as addressing the causes of homelessness, over the last years we’ve worked to improve conditions for rough sleepers. We’ve worked with Bristol churches through the One City Plan to open Winter Night Shelters, opened St Anne’s Shelter with St Mungo’s and started the Warm Winter Coats initiative.
We appreciate though that there’s always more work to be done. That’s why we’ve recently launched Bristol Street Outreach, a seven-day-a-week rough sleeping service, particularly focused on engaging with people who have been rough sleeping for a long time.
Passing this motion compliments the work we’ve been doing to tackle homelessness in Bristol, so I’m glad it had the support of some other parties.
Going forward, we’ll continue to tackle the causes of homelessness by accelerating our housebuilding programme, improving our homelessness support services, and by continuing to support the worst-off. We will also continue to speak out where we need to. This will give those who rely on us to be, or amplify their voice, the trust and confidence that we are on their side.