Gimme Shelter

We're creating a shelter to help young people experiencing a homelessness crisis in Bristol

Last year, with a rapidly changing situation pushed by the cost-of living crisis, we made the difficult decision to pause preparations for our youth shelter. We’ve used that time to create a stronger evidence-based foundation, and secure specialist funding to make the project viable in the current operating environment.

Some of you will remember Mel Holmes who has now returned to the Caring in Bristol team to manage Project Z. She’ll manage the youth practitioners and the shelter project staff, as well as the team of volunteers that will be integral to the project (more about these opportunities below, so read on!)

Mel tells us, “The shelter will provide emergency accommodation for up to four young people between 18 and 25 at any one time. They’ll receive expert support over a three-month period to ensure a positive transition to new accommodation.”

The project builds on the significant work that previous staff members completed which has been valuable. “We aimed to open this previously,” explains Mel, “but realised with inflationary rises we would not have been able to sustain this long term. We wanted to find the very best location and accommodation for the shelter that was a good fit for what we were hoping to provide to young people experiencing homelessness and made a difficult decision to not go ahead with a previous location. Now we’re in a better position we can approach this differently and have found a property that is located in the city centre, close to amenities, and with a supportive landlord.”

Service Manager Mel who is managing the shelter project
Mel, who is looking forward to the new youth shelter opening in Bristol

Mel is excited to let people know that work is now at an advanced stage: “We have been working with architects and a change of use for the building has been submitted. While this is being processed, we have been consulting young people and key people working in the homelessness sector. This has been headed up by Dr Ella Harris and the report will be finalised by the end of March 2023 but we already have a snapshot of her findings…”

Dr Harris explains that establishing a youth shelter is an urgent priority, “From interviews with sector experts (including from 1625 Independent People, Live West, Creative Youth Network and Housing Matters) it’s apparent that there is an intensifying crisis of youth homelessness in Bristol. The housing market in the city has become prohibitively expensive and, coupled with the cost-of-living crisis in the UK, more and more young people are unable to access shared accommodation on the private rental market. At the same time, there is little available social housing and long waiting lists for what accommodation is available. Many young people experiencing homelessness don’t qualify for priority needs and therefore slip through the net. For those who don’t have a safe, adequate family home to go to, sofa surfing and street homelessness become inevitable.”

The shelter will tackle the issues and needs of young people which they uniquely experience. Dr Harris noted in her research that sector experts have already identified the vital and specialist support that young people experiencing homelessness need, and says, “They have warned that young people are often unsafe in generic adult homelessness shelters, where they are vulnerable to sexual abuse and assault, violence and to the influence of older people involved in drug use and crime. These views are corroborated by the findings of focus groups conducted with young people themselves, who have shared extremely concerning experiences of adult shelters.”

Caring in Bristol identifies gaps in provision, and this research strengthens our resolve to find solutions in this area. Dr Harris’ research has also identified that “Sector experts have explained that there is currently a significant gap in the provision of targeted youth accommodation in Bristol, which Caring in Bristol will help to fill with their new accommodation. My research has shown that it is imperative this gap is closed urgently to prevent a rise in long term homelessness in the city.”

We are now entering a period of intense activity to ensure we hit the ground running. Mel is keen to speak with people who want to support our work to provide this urgently needed resource in Bristol. “The new project will bring fresh opportunities for volunteers to join Caring in Bristol’s mission to find creative ways to solve homelessness in the city,” Mel says, “It will be both challenging and rewarding. Volunteers will gain skills and knowledge, gain experience in the area of homelessness and young people. We will offer training, and volunteers will positively impact on the futures of young Bristolians who are moving through and beyond a housing crisis.”

Mel has been contacting prospective volunteers through Caring in Bristol’s existing volunteer portal. She’s keep to speak with people who feel they’re the right person to get onboard with making a difference to the options available to vulnerable young people in Bristol. These initial conversations will help anyone considering this role to understand it in more detail, and to think about its benefits to themselves and to young Bristolians needing their support. Contact Mel here: nightshelter@caringinbristol.org.uk

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