Help is at hand

Pictured are members of the B&NES multi-agency Homeless Outreach Team – Jamie Tutton, Julian House, Jodie Bullock, DHI and Paddy Padfield from the Avon & Wilts Mental Health Partnership.

Local help for people who sleep rough or are at risk of becoming homeless this winter is being highlighted by Bath and North East Somerset support agencies – and an urgent appeal is being made for some self-contained accommodation as part of the vaccination push.

Bath & North East Somerset Council and its Homelessness Partnership partners Julian House and Developing Health & Independence (DHI) are highlighting where residents can go for help, whether for themselves or someone else, and what they can do to make a difference this Christmas.

Currently, there is enough provision for anyone in the city who is sleeping rough to have a bed each night.

Since the ‘Everyone In’ initiative directed by the Government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the partners report that most homeless people who were offered accommodation in April 2020 are still inside, having secured either a permanent or supported temporary living option and are on a path to independent living.

Accommodation for people who are homeless and test positive for Covid has already been made available and is in use now, providing a safe and warm place to quarantine. However, due to the increased levels of Covid infection and the new Omicron strain, on Monday 20th December, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities announced new funds to make sure that accommodation is available for any person rough sleeping this winter.

An allocation of £122,000 has been made to B&NES Council to cover the cost of providing self-contained accommodation for this winter. Another £15,000 has been allocated to assist with removing barriers to getting vaccinated.

The most commonly cited reason not to take up the offer of vaccination is not having accommodation to rest in should they need it due to feeling the ‘flu-like symptoms often experienced due to the vaccination. The hope is that by ensuring accommodation is available, more rough sleepers will choose to book a vaccination and protect themselves and others against infection.

To make sure this happens, B&NES Council needs to find accommodation for up to eight people that is immediately available or that may be available immediately after Christmas, for up to three months. Rent and utilities will be covered by the grant and full support will be in place to ensure the residents’ safety, wellbeing and ability to look after the accommodation. If you are a landlord and think you may be able to help with this, please contact Ann Robins at Ann_Robins@bathnes.gov.uk or on 07813 401903

As well as looking for this support residents and visitors wishing to offer help this winter are asked to consider making a donation to Julian House, DHI or the Genesis Trust. Donations go directly to support rough sleepers locally.

In Bath, Nationwide have a ‘Tap and Donate’ point for contactless donations. Julian House administer the fund to help equip people with the items they need when they are moving on from sleeping rough.

People are asked not to donate items that enable people to sustain a life on the streets, including gas cookers that can be dangerous when used inside tents. They advise that giving equipment can mean that a person does not want to engage with services that can make long-lasting improvements to their lives. It can also be life-threatening, as one person has already been injured using a camping stove.

Councillor Alison Born, cabinet member for Adults and Council House Building, said: “It’s testament to the strong working relationship we have with our partners that there is a wide range of practical and personal support for people who are homeless this winter. If we have particularly cold weather, plans are in place to ensure that there is enough emergency provision to offer everyone a bed.

“I hope people find this reassuring if they need help for themselves or for someone else facing homelessness. Come to Julian House, DHI or the council’s Housing Options team and you will be offered the right help and advice. I’m also pleased that the Homeless Partnership are ready to keep people safe if they contract Covid. I know the infection rates amongst our rough sleepers have been low this year, thanks to the support already offered, including an excellent vaccination offer.”

Cecil Weir, Fundraising and PR Director at Julian House, said: “ We are a generous nation and instinctively most people want to support people they see on the street.  Giving money is not the best way to do that.  It may unfortunately be used to feed the very issue which has put that individual in such a vulnerable position.  It would be much better to support one of the agencies which is providing support and a sustainable route off the street.”

DHI also reports that there is no shortage of food in the city for people who are struggling, thanks to people’s generosity and the excellent practical support provided by the Genesis Trust.

Nik Brown, Reach Service Manager at DHI said: “It is encouraging that in these cold months, there is no need for anyone facing homelessness to go hungry or to sleep rough. Supported housing enables people to overcome the barriers they are facing and live a fuller, independent life. However, our joint outreach team with Julian House are still out and about this winter helping anyone who is spending time on the street. I’d also encourage everyone to connect with people who are homeless – take them a coffee or have an interesting chat. We all need a sense of self-worth and human interaction can really help with that.”

 If anyone concerned about an individual that they see on the street, particularly in the smaller towns and villages in B&NES, they should contact the Streetlink hotline – a very efficient means to relay such information to local outreach staff.  The number is 0300 500 0914.

Contact details for the Homelessness Partnership organisations are