Homeless ‘falling through the net’

Friends in Bristol have expressed concern that some homeless people are ‘falling through the net’

Central Bristol Meeting has expressed frustration that its on-site night shelter is currently closed while there are homeless people still on the street.

Dean Smart, clerk of Central Bristol Meeting, told the Friend that there are rough sleepers who ‘have fallen through the net’ due to government plans that they should be housed in hotels. Unfortunately, some hotels are ‘not stepping up and leaving them on the street. In the meantime, we’ve had to close due to the risk of infection’.

Bristol Meeting converted part of its building into a night shelter for homeless people two years ago, run by the charity Caring in Bristol. The Islamic charity Feed the Homeless has also been using one of the Meeting house’s kitchens to cook and distribute food for rough sleepers. Both have had to stop operating since the lockdown was announced. 
Several charities in Bristol have had to close or reduce their services for homeless people since the outbreak took hold. Mayor Marvin Rees recently put out an appeal for 450 beds for people who are homeless or sleeping rough. But, according to Dean Smart, there is a shortfall: ‘Before the national lockdown, we decided to allow the whole building to be used and change it from a night shelter to a day shelter, so people could stay the whole time… However, the government then instructed that homeless shelters had to close because of the risk of infection, and that all homeless people should be hosted in hotels by the local authorities. The problem is that not enough hotels in Bristol are willing to take them so there are still people sleeping out. In the meantime, our shelter isn’t being used although there are still volunteers willing to help. It’s like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The government is trying to do what’s best, but the consequences are that some very vulnerable people have been left to fall through the net.’ 

Another frustration, he said, is that Feed the Homeless can no longer use its kitchen and ‘the charities can’t get out and look for them… so there are people on the streets with nowhere to stay and no food’.

A government review found that up to 45,000 ‘self-contained accommodation spaces’ needed to be urgently found to protect rough sleepers against coronavirus. Homeless people are among the most vulnerable, and are three times more likely to have a severe respiratory problem.

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