Ramblings

Helping the Homeless in Bristol

 

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I walk past this sleeping bag every day on my way to work and it’s becoming a more common sight

Homelessness across Britain has dramatically risen over the last few years and the city of Bristol is no different. People begging and sleeping on the streets is now a common sight in the city.

Homelessness charity Shelter recently reported that homelessness across the whole of Britain is increasing year on year with 320,000 people reported homeless in 2018. This is an increase of more than 13,000 compared to 2017. Bristol’s recent official rough sleeper count recorded 82 people living on the streets – this is four less than last year but this doesn’t account for those sleeping in unsafe buildings, vehicles or sofa-surfing.

There any many misconceptions surrounding the homeless, with assumptions sometimes made that those on the streets have brought their situation on themselves through addiction. While some rough sleepers do suffer from substance abuse, this cannot be said for all.

One man on the street that I spoke to, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was simply a case of losing his job and not being able to pay the “crippling” rents. Many of the homeless have moved to the area with a limited support network and so have no-one to turn to when they get into difficulty. Rising rents and a lack of affordable housing are some of the main issues that have contributed to the rising levels of homelessness in Bristol – the average house price is £300,000 with rents regularly pushing £1,000 a month.

I recently visited Help Bristol’s Homeless in Bedminster where founder Jasper Thompson is converting shipping containers into accommodation for the homeless. Bristol philanthropist Jasper, who works as a bodyguard in his spare time, has been developing an innovative way to help.

The charity, which was founded in 2017, renovates shipping containers to turn them into accommodation for the homeless. The site on Malago Road currently has seven people living on site who help maintain the containers, while rebuilding their lives. Thompson believes that providing people with a roof over their heads is the first step to helping the homeless .

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Some of the containers at Help Bristol’s Homeless

The containers, some of which are donated and others bought via fundraising, have been fitted out and look indistinguishable from the inside with a fully equipped kitchen, shower, toilet facilities and a bed. Those who live on site all help out with the refit with tradespeople offering electrical and plumbing services for free.

I spoke to Rob Earnshaw who has been living on the site since it opened in 2017 and now helps manage the site as well as doing the cooking. He became homeless after a combination of mental breakdowns and heavy drinking and calls the project “affirming” and “diversional therapy” from the situation he’s in. Earnshaw now intends to continue helping others with the night bus the charity is using to help get people off the street. The double-decker bus has been fitted with beds for 12 people and will allow users to access the toilet, shower and breakfast facilities at Malago Road. More information about the charity can be found here.

Below is a quick interview with Jasper Thompson.

 

Ramblings

An increasingly Big issue…

A few weeks ago I did something I’m ashamed to say I’ve never done before. I bought a copy of the Big Issue. Now I don’t want this post to become preachy but over the past few years, homelessness is a subject that’s become more evident and important to me.

Over the last few years, I’ve worked in two city centres where I’ve witnessed a staggering increase in the number of homeless people. In my small seaside town, people living on the street were a rarity during my childhood, but this has increased too. The number of homeless people across the UK has increased dramatically with homeless charity Shelter reporting last year that one in every 200 people in the UK was homeless.

The Big Issue

In the past, I’ve been guilty, as I’m sure many of us have, at ignoring people begging and Big Issue sellers. As a child or young woman on their own I have felt at times intimidated and would rather walk on the other side of the road or ignore someone than engage, in case of the very small chance, that someone gets aggressive. There’s also the thought that many of us have about where any money we give somebody might be spent? Is it going on cigarettes or to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction? The Big Issue helps any of its vendors who have an addiction but does stress that, contrary to popular belief, not all suffer addictions.

Since starting my new job, I’ve started chatting to the Big Issue vendor near my office and he really brightens up my day. Instead of just shouting “Big Issue” like so many do, he simply wishes you a good morning and to have a lovely day. Considering my commute can be very stressful with people pushing, not acknowledging you and being generally anti-social, this is a welcome change. I always wish him a good day back and have on a few occasions now bought the magazine from him.

I didn’t know a lot about the magazine beforehand but it’s actually a really interesting read with some well-written features, as well as real stories about people who have pulled themselves out of homelessness. For those unfamiliar, each vendor has to be either homeless or very close to being so and they pay £1.25 per issue which they then sell on for £2.50.

Misconceptions

The misconceptions about homelessness are vast. It’s assumed that the majority are addicts or they must have done something bad to be kicked out of their accommodation or family home. After reading many examples of how people become homeless, it’s actually a lot closer to happening to some of us than we think. I’m lucky that I have a steady job, a home I can afford and a support network of family and friends who would be there if anything went wrong. Some people have no family or friends to fall back on, so if they’re struggling with employment and then can’t afford their rent, it’s very easy for it all to fall apart. Bereavement, redundancy and illness can all cause this.

A few tips on what to do if you see a homeless person:

  • Firstly, if you’re concerned about a rough sleeper, particularly if it’s extremely warm or cold outside, contact StreetLink who can put them in contact with support services
  • Talk to them. Even if it’s just a hello or if you feel more confident, have chat, find out if there’s anything you can do to help that won’t put you out of pocket. We’re all human and capable of making mistakes at the end of the day
  • Rather than giving money, why not grab them a bottle of water, a coffee or a sandwich
  • Buy the Big Issue off an official vendor and most importantly, take it. It’s a business, not a charity and they want you to take and read it. If you want to find out more, visit it here

If you’re still cynical about where your money might be going, at the end of the day £2.50 can’t do a lot of harm, but it could do a bit of good.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash