Rough sleeping – let’s end it for good

Today’s blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes and Labour Councillor for Horfield.

The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping published their interim report this month, ahead of final recommendations due later this Autumn.

Bristol was pleased to be invited to sit on the Advisory Board for this Commission. I look forward, as the new cabinet member for Housing, to working further with the Commission as it continues its work, alongside fellow member, our Director for Communities and Public Health, Christina Gray.

As a group, we are examining the lessons from the pandemic response which supported people sleeping rough. The aim is to help all agencies involved – including us, as local authorities – understand what worked and what is now needed to embed the good practice that was shown during the past year. It’s this work which saw us reduce rough sleeping by 80% in Bristol.

‘Everyone In’ enabled us to fast-track our city ambitions to end rough sleeping altogether. We took advantage of the opportunity to connect people with the support services they needed alongside accommodation. This period showed what can be achieved when we are able to invest in the right interventions.

It is now vital we are supported by Government to maintain this progress and secure long-term housing. In the last two years, supporting tenants in the private rented sector at risk of homelessness has kept a roof over their heads and saved the council taxpayer £12 million in potential costs such as rehousing. While supporting our most vulnerable citizens remains the top priority, that principle of investing now to save later is also true when it comes to helping people with a history of rough sleeping. Meaningful intervention now reduces the likelihood of more taxpayers’ money being spent on costs down the line on health services and criminal justice.

Bristol’s housing teams are building on the momentum we gathered during ‘Everyone In’, developing projects that will help increase move-on accommodation options. It was great to see the Commission’s interim report highlight the brilliant work done by St Mungos in the city, who worked closely with us and Homes England to buy units of self-contained accommodation for those sleeping rough. We know it’s vital that people are offered long-term stability, alongside the skills to live independently, and it was good to see this highlighted in the report.

However, the longstanding structural challenges remain the same: we need more homes. But if we can maintain our momentum, we can go a long way to achieving sustainable success. It is therefore vital the Government learn from the success of the Covid-19 response. They need to step up the level of investment in homelessness services and accommodation for us to avoid a future surge in rough sleeping.