Caring in Bristol – preventing homelessness throughout Covid

A smiling man gesturing towards a Cheers Drive badge on his blue chef's overallsCheers Drive image credit Caring in Bristol

With Bristol one of only two core cities where homelessness is rising, we speak to Steven Dodds, Head of Partnerships and Impact at Caring in Bristol. He tells us about the needs they’re seeing – and how we can all help local people experiencing homelessness.

Getting people off the streets and into safety in lockdown 1:0

“When the pandemic first happened, ‘Everyone In’ was a massive intervention”, explains Steven Dodds, “the Government-funded scheme temporarily housed people experiencing homelessness – primarily those sleeping rough – in self-contained accommodation during the first wave of the pandemic. According to government estimates, 90% of people rough sleeping were given an offer of accommodation via Everyone In (Kerslake Commission Interm Report)“.

The pandemic changed the shape of homelessness

Caring in Bristol responded to the pandemic by launching the Cheers Drive project. It provides hot meals, activities and care to people experiencing homelessness in Bristol.

  • at its peak Cheers Drive was feeding over 350 people a day living in hotels and hostels across Bristol
  • in total Caring in Bristol supported over 850 people through Cheers Drive.

The project has slowly wound down and the hotels are back to their normal business.

“The Everyone In intervention changed the shape of homelessness. Street homelessness reduced to 35-40 people in Bristol, so very little street homelessness relative to previous years” explains Steven.

Record numbers of homeless people in temporary accommodation

“When Everyone In ended, the local authority had a duty to house everyone concerned. We now have record numbers of homeless people in temporary or settled accommodation in Bristol.

“Street homelessness has started to increase again. The vulnerability has also grown amongst people not living on the streets but still in insecure housing of different sorts. We need to support them. This is preventative work to stop them returning to street sleeping, or helping them access and maintain good housing.”

Growing need to support young people

Caring in Bristol, formerly known as Caring at Christmas, first formed in 1987. Their remit has grown in response to local need. They’re increasingly focused on trying to prevent homelessness, as well as supporting people in crisis. A large proportion of their work is with people aged 16-25. Their Project Z team provide Bristol’s only floating support service for young people – a flexible service which helps people secure and maintain their tenancy. And a new project in the pipeline will see them open the city’s only dedicated youth shelter, providing accommodation and support.

“We’re seeing a growth in demand from young people aged 16-25 who are vulnerable to losing their accommodation.”

The pressure is on this autumn

“We need to support all those in temporary and settled accommodation. There’s also a need to support the new demand from those that will become vulnerable to losing housing due to the end of the eviction ban, the end of furlough and the end of the Universal Credit uplift.”

Reflections on the last 18 months

Reflecting on the last 18 months, Steven says: “We had an overwhelming level of support from the city through the pandemic. We’re now investing in new projects to prevent homelessness in different forms.”

Along with many others, they were forced to close their night shelter – communal dormitory-style overnight accommodation – due to the pandemic. Many of the city’s shared overnight shelters haven’t been able to reopen safely.

“But if you’re looking for positives from the pandemic” Steven says, “the alternative – private rooms – is a lot better for people.”

Their new youth shelter will be a five bedroom house, everyone with their own room, plus communal spaces.

How can the local community, and funders like Quartet, help Caring in Bristol and hundreds of vulnerably housed people in the city?

“Clearly homelessness doesn’t begin or end in the city centre. It’s about people in our communities across the city that don’t find the support they need, when they need it. We all need to think about how we can make our city and communities more supportive, and how we can be more understanding of those who need help.

“And to funders we say – help us build on the changes that have been forced on the homelessness sector during the pandemic, but that are actually positive. We need to focus more on prevention, on high quality housing and support, and on working better together as a city.”

Supporting projects tackling homelessness

Quartet Community Foundation has been funding projects preventing and tackling homelessness, including advice and mental health support, for many years. As well as funding the Cheers Drive project, we also awarded Caring in Bristol a grant earlier this year to boost the capacity of advice services during this challenging time for people in housing crisis.

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