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Council forced to find alternative for rough sleepers as government scraps scheme

Coronavirus in Bristol

Homeless people in Bristol will be moved out of hotels, where they’d been placed to self-isolate, and into whatever housing the council can lay its hands on – including student accommodation.

Bristol City Council has put the call out to universities, private landlords and others in the housing sector to help provide homes for homeless people. Many private landlords have already answered the call, and the University of Bristol has signalled it is willing to do its bit too.

It comes amid controversy over whether the Government’s emergency scheme to get homeless people off the streets and into hotels has come to an end. The scheme covered people who are not usually eligible for public funding because of their immigration status, but it is unclear whether funding for this group will continue.

The council’s head of housing options, Paul Sylvester, told a cross-sector city housing board there were 280 homeless people living in hotels and youth hostels across the city. He said 50 of them are not eligible for public funding – ten are “destitute” asylum seekers and 40 are European nationals without a job.

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“Clearly our focus now is on moving people on from the hotels,” Sylvester told the Bristol Homes and Communities Board on 14 May. 

“We’re working with hotel providers, looking at extending access for some of them and planning in for when the hotels will want to take the hotels back and let them as their normal business. We don’t want to see anyone who’s coming out of hotels going back to the streets and that’s particularly challenging for those people with no recourse to public funds.

“I think there will be a big ask out to universities and student union accommodation providers who could hopefully provide us with interim accommodation that we need whilst we’re looking to move everyone on.”

University of Bristol’s chief financial officer, Robert Kerse said the university could help out because it was expecting some of its student accommodation to remain empty next year.

“What I’ve got is more largely more akin to bed spaces rather than discrete dwellings,” he said.

Setting out the council’s One City Move-on Project, Sylvester called for ideas from the homes board, which comprises councillors and interest groups such as the university, tenants, landlords, homelessness charities, housing associations and house building companies.

The project aims to significantly reduce homelessness by increasing the supply of affordable move-on accommodation and by providing the support they need to keep their tenancies and stay in that accommodation.

Its goals are long-term but its first job is to find move-on accommodation for the homeless people living in a total of five hotels and hostels in Bristol. Sylvester said: “We know how many people need supported housing, we know how many people will be able to be placed and will fare well in the private sector, and we know how many people need a more bespoke solution.”

A “number” of homeless people had either already abandoned their hotel room or been evicted but were receiving support, he said. Paul Ingerslev from St Mungo’s said the homelessness charity’s relationship with one “very large hotel” that took in 100 people had been “rocky at times”, but that things had gone more smoothly at two youth hostels.

“This is just going to be the first wave, isn’t it? More people may lose their home, and become homeless”

Lindy Morgan, housing association sector

The number of homeless people in Bristol who had become infected with Covid-19 remained low but risked climbing if they were put into unsuitable accommodation such as dormitories, he added.

Cabinet member for housing, Paul Smith said: “A lot of the people from the hotels won’t move straight into their own flat. “Many of them will need to move into supported housing, and for that to happen we need many of the people in supported housing to be able to move on into flats and other self-contained accommodation so it is a lot more complex than just taking people out of the hotels and putting them in a flat somewhere.”

Sylvester said social housing was being prioritised for people in supported homelessness accommodation, to create vacancies for those coming out of hotels. Lindy Morgan from the housing association sector warned the pandemic would create a flood of homeless people on the city’s street.

“This is just going to be the first wave, isn’t it,” she said. “More people may lose their home, and become homeless.

“We’re just dealing with the people we know about at the moment and we don’t know what it will look like in six months’ time.”

The council is exploring “every particular avenue” to get the “massive step change” in the supply of supported housing it is looking for under its move-on project, the board heard.

Options include doubling the number of private lettings to more than 400 this year, buying homes, temporarily converting properties in “stalled new developments”, and exploring the use of modular housing.

Ian Knight from Homes England said: “I find it extraordinary that it’s taken a pandemic to get us to the position in society where we’re able and willing to take action to ensure people are not living on the street.”

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