No information. Zero advice. Missing support. Losing hope. It’s hard to imagine facing the growing menace of homelessness in such an isolated position.
What’s worse is that the push of circumstances forcing people into homelessness invariably gets worse. There’s never a point that is too soon to take action, and Caring in Bristol’s Early Doors project not only encourages people to do this, it provides them with the information, advice, and support to prevent the devastation of homelessness from happening. If our city can become better at stopping it before it starts, we all benefit. Homelessness is not inevitable, and if we all take part in creating a city that solves homelessness then we can all sleep easily in our beds. The current reality is of many Bristolians who don’t even have a bed to sleep easily or safely in. We think this reality is unacceptable in Bristol, and everywhere else too.
‘Sofa surfing’ is a term that hides the complex reality of a particular form of homelessness. When Jessie, who manages the project, drilled into the local statistics, she found that it played a large role in accommodating people in Bristol who might otherwise be forced into street homelessness. Using a more official term for sofa surfing (“living with friends or family”), Bristol council recorded almost 28% of people as experiencing this form of precarious living when they were assessed as being owed a prevention duty*. This means being at risk of becoming homeless in the following 56 days. It cannot be right that a form of ‘hidden’ homelessness is preventing the more visible form of street homelessness. Behind these statistics are people in Bristol facing a growing crisis of uncertainty.
Jessie shares some of her observations of this from her work, particularly how it manifests in the population of young people who are homeless in Bristol. She explains, “A young person may say they are staying with a friend, but in reality, this may involve staying on the floor of multiple acquaintances, having to arrive late at night and then leave early in the morning without somewhere to eat breakfast or shower.” The idea of surfing, or the sense of stability that living with friends or family might imply, is more likely a constant and chaotic churn of destabilising living conditions. This absence of even basic needs being met is no foundation for anyone to find or maintain employment, relationships, or mental and physical health. It’s one good reason among many why Early Doors is needed to prevent this.
Every week Jessie and her team are on the ground in key Bristol neighbourhoods where housing and homelessness issues are a massive concern to more and more people. The pressure that pushes individuals and families closer to the edge of homelessness is mounting. They see the issues often discussed in the national media reflected in the devastating situations experienced by Bristolians. As campaigners turn up the volume of their demands for the government to deliver a long-awaited Renters’ Rights Bill, Early Doors is meeting and working with tenants served with Section 21 (‘no fault’) eviction notices. Some landlords are aggressively using this type of eviction to avoid their obligations to provide adequate standards of accommodation for their tenants, or to make way for tenants prepared and able to pay higher rents. It’s a level of insecurity that causes distress and disruption to lives. Early Doors’ services are needed to ensure that people understand their rights and options to tackle these and many other complex housing situations that can all too easily end in homelessness.
The need for Early Doors expert help is on the rise, and Jessie has recently welcomed two new members to the team in response; Karen and Jess. Karen lives in one of the neighbourhoods where Early Doors works and has been actively involved in supporting local people for many years. She’s now putting her local expertise to good use through the service’s group work. This is an important aspect of how the team can build confident, self-determined responses in Bristol’s communities and reach larger numbers of people. Accessible workshop sessions provide opportunities for residents to learn together, support each other, and find ways forward through precarious housing situations. Finding the best information and knowing how to use it to create the best outcomes, is not always an easy thing to do. But with the increasing range of sessions built around real needs, Early Doors responds quickly to the needs that emerge and change. Karen tells us, “It’s important that we have community conversations with local people to find out the cracks in the foundations and the changes they want to see, and the services that they would like to support the changes. Through these conversations it enables people to feel empowered and be part of the changes they want to see and work with outside services to strengthen against shortfalls in their community.”
When Jess recently joined the team, she began building on her experience from another Caring in Bristol project, Bristol Goods. She has seen first-hand the link between food insecurity and homelessness. She has seen the relationship between the complex themes that compound to push people towards homelessness. Her role now is to work with people to unpick the bewildering tangle of threads that snare people in a place of insecurity. This is no place for anyone to be, and Jess is optimistic when she says, “People often don’t know where to start. Situations can be really complicated and overwhelming, but more often than not, once someone accesses advice and support the situation and next steps become clearer.”
The team are working hard to meet increasing needs for the service. In recent months they initiated a housing advice drop in BS13, working in partnership with Housing Matters and Shelter. This has demonstrated how effective it is for people to access advice easily and before a problem has gone too far to be resolved. One person said, “I can’t tell you the difference the information I’ve received over the past year has made.” Whilst it’s important to remember the depth of distress that lies behind the statistics we see, it’s also vital to consider the positive impact that this kind of preventative work has. Early Doors’ work is delivering this impact, and its newly increased capacity means that it can do even more. There is yet more to do beyond this, and our supporters and donors are backing their actions to fight precarious housing situations.
The sooner that the problems are tackled, the sooner that Early Doors can help to solve homelessness in Bristol – and we all get to sleep easily.
You can download Early Doors’ Housing Support Handbook here. It’s a tool for anyone facing money worries or housing problems in Bristol It’s just one on the project’s actions to prevent homelessness in Bristol.
If you’d like to stand alongside Caring in Bristol and our mission to solve homelessness in Bristol it’s quick, easy, and safe to make your kind donation here.