The ‘unseen homeless’ of Bristol

Women’s’ rights activists disrupt a Bristol City Council meeting in protest of the council’s proposal to rehouse domestic violence survivors and demand an increase in social housing across the city.

The Bristol branch of Sisters Uncut attended a full council meeting on 13 December 2016 and revealed a banner whilst shouting and setting off rape alarms. The Sisters were protesting after the council failed to grant priority housing to all victims of domestic abuse in their draft proposal.

Watch the video:

The council’s draft proposal has suggested that they will prioritise high-risk victims of domestic abuse by awarding band 1 (the highest priority) to those who have been through a MARAC (multi-agency risk assessment conference). Bristol Sisters Uncut condemn the proposal as ‘totally inadequate to support victims of DV’.

Picture credit: Nina Napier
Charlotte Gage of Bristol Zero Tolerance Picture: Nina Napier

Charlotte Gage, who works for Bristol Zero Tolerance, a gender-based violence project, agrees with Sister’s Uncut that the proposal does not go far enough. “Only 10% of domestic abuse cases receive a MARAC assessment which means only 25 – 50 women per year would receive priority banding in Bristol on the council’s current proposals”.

Gage says that some women choose to stay in abusive and violent relationships to avoid becoming homeless. She believes that there are fewer women on the streets because they are the ‘unseen homeless’ and when confronted with a lack of social housing to support them, this presents a stark choice for women facing abuse.

Charlotte Gage talks about women’s homelessness and the housing crisis:

Bristol Sisters Uncut were escorted from the council chamber during their protest before they could read their full statement.  They later posted it on their Facebook Page.

Molly, a member of Bristol Sister’s Uncut who attended the action said:

“We believe the council is failing in their promise to support survivor’s of DV. When we started to read our statement the council started removing us. The security were quite aggressive, they bruised one member of the group and someone else was grabbed around their ribs.”

Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, promised in the run up to his election to prioritise social housing for domestic violence survivors living in safe houses in Bristol.

Picture credit: Steinsky Creative Commons licence

The Council declined to comment but released a statement in relation to the incident on 13 December:

“During today’s council meeting a protest group unfurled a banner, started chanting and let off an alarm. The Mayor, Marvin Rees, offered to meet them after the meeting to discuss their protest and the action they want to see happen. When they continued shouting they were asked to leave and then escorted from the Chamber.” 

Mayor Marvin Rees added:

“I have prioritised housing for women fleeing domestic violence and abuse. The proposal we have put out for consultation follows input from leading DVA and homelessness charities in the city. We have asked people to contribute to the consultation to make sure that the proposal that comes to Cabinet in the New Year ensures that Bristol is a place of safety for DVA victims, but in a context where 10,000 households are on the waiting list including 500 families in temporary accommodation.” 

“I agree with Sisters Uncut Bristol when they say a major issue is the lack of available homes versus a very high demand. This leaves us in a difficult position because there are all sorts of vulnerable and at-risk groups of people who need housing. We have tried to find a workable solution based on assessing the risk to people.”

Sisters uncut screengrab

The council’s consultation has been extended until the 6 January 2017, with the result expected on 13 January. Although the council has said that they would like to speak with Bristol Sisters Uncut, they have yet to have a meeting.

Molly from Bristol Sisters Uncut talks about the protest and why they felt it was important to act for victims of domestic abuse:

‘Homelessness Hotspot”

The social housing problem is not just limited to women in domestic abuse situations in Bristol. According to Shelter, the UK’s leading homelessness charity, one in 199 people live in Bristol without a home. They believe the situation has hit crisis point and the chief executive Campbell Robb said: “A modern day housing crisis is tightening its grip on our country. Decades in the making, this is the tragic result of a nation struggling under the weight of sky-high rents, a lack of affordable homes, and cuts to welfare support.” Shelter believe Bristol is one of the ‘homelessness hotspots’ of the UK alongside London and Brighton.

Picture credit: Nina Napier

On 7 December 2016 Bristol City Council released the annual rough sleeper count figure. 74 people were sleeping rough in Bristol during the annual count, which is lower than the 97 recorded last year (although the 2015 figure was based on an estimate rather than an actual count). Marvin Rees acknowledges that there are unseen homeless people who also need support and are not included in that figure.

David Ingerslev, co-chair of the Rough Sleeping Partnership said “between November 2015 and October 2016 1,100 individuals were supported by the Bristol Rough Sleeping Partnership, led by St Mungo’s and other partners. Around 150 people are being supported by the outreach team and the majority of people being supported will sleep rough only when they have no other option” 

Charlotte Gage says “we are not saying this is worse for one particular group. We are trying to ensure that the most vulnerable groups can access social housing and increase their support.”

The ‘unseen homeless’ of Bristol