Bristol is facing an epidemic of homelessness fuelled by housing benefit cuts. That’s according to campaigners in the city who are planning a 'Poverty Hearing’ next week.
The event will give people affected by poverty and housing problems the chance to express their views and experiences.
It will bring together landlords, employers, MPs, councillors, representatives from housing organisations and charitable trusts, the media and the public to hear from those at the sharp end and to consider ideas for moving forward.
The Poverty Hearing is organised by Bristol Poverty Action, whose members include Bristol Quakers and staff from local advice centres.
“Successive governments have chosen to pay housing benefit to private landlords rather than building enough social housing,” said Hilary Saunders, a spokesperson for the group.
Bristol Poverty Action said that there are more than 14,300 households waiting for social housing in Bristol, although the city has about 7,000 empty properties.
The group added that around 6,500 private tenants in Bristol are facing a typical reduction of £15 to £25 per week in their housing benefit, while a further 900 single people aged under 35 will lose on average £40 per week.
“Some communities in the east and south of Bristol will experience widespread social disruption with people being forced to move away from family networks and children having to leave familiar schools,” explained Saunders.
She added, “As many private landlords refuse to let to housing benefit claimants, it will become increasingly difficult for anyone on benefits to obtain a private tenancy”.
The Poverty Hearing is a chance to hear from people directly affected by the “real human consequences” of the cuts, and to share thoughts on practical steps that could improve things locally.
The campaigners say that valuable work is already being done in Bristol. They have drawn attention to the work of Bristol Together, a social enterprise helping ex-offenders to develop the skills to renovate empty properties, thereby creating employment and increasing the housing stock.
Lack of funds is affecting the Ladies’ Night Shelter in east Bristol, which has beds for eight homeless women, but due to lack of funds is only able to open for two nights each week.
Valerie Thompson, who manages the shelter, receives frequent calls from social services and the police looking for beds for women. She said, “If we could raise around £35,000, we could open every night of the week, and help these women move on into independent, secure accommodation”.
The hearing will take place at Bristol Council House on Friday 18 May.