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.

homelessness
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.”

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The ‘unseen homeless’ of Bristol

How to survive your Quarter Life Crisis

October 2014

It’s no secret that today’s 20 something’s face a social reality more shocking than an episode of Geordie Shore. In fact, in my opinion, the conundrum encountered by this age group is enough to create an entire generation of borderline schizophrenics. I feel like one of them. We live in the limbo between the giant pressure cooker that claims to be ‘real life’ and the online, fancy version which is susceptible to making yourself (and of course others) both paranoid and jealous.

My New Home. Playa Samara at Sunset, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
My New Home. Playa Samara at Sunset, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

A Quarter Life Crisis is a genuine and frightening phenomenon. It must be, there’s a whole website and a bunch of self-help books out there. There also seems to be a common consensus that this generation has it worse than former ones. Excellent news. It’s very encouraging to hear that the most daunting and challenging years between 20 and now 30 are even worse than they were before. Even my dear mother, faced with an unwashed and frantically pacing daughter, cut out a newspaper article on the subject and felt the need to present it to me at dinner. I know it was an attempt to make me feel better but I just reacted in my usual dramatic way and asked why she was implying my breakdown was just like everyone else’s? Wasn’t it just me that felt this way? How many other recent graduates felt as if their lives were already teetering over the edge of despair? See, I told you; I’m dramatic. The odds are that if you fit the age bracket and the constant pressure and expectation hasn’t got to you yet it probably will at some point soon. Buenos Suerte.

This first entry is an account of my own mental pile up and how it led to my life rummaging around on beaches in Central America making things out of driftwood and pretty shells. Driftwood is a good descriptive term for many people in this generation. I drifted into this little beach town in Costa Rica just as the many others have drifted through the first quarter of their lives, ready and waiting to wash up and see what happens.

So the lowdown on my life before I started pretending to be a beached mermaid? I was a recent law graduate from a prestigious University in the North of England. I then worked as a Paralegal for 10 months, which I know was lucky as many people never even get that far straight off the back of their undergraduate law degree. However, for me, the process of becoming a lawyer in England was like slowly pulling each individual hair out of my head and assigning it over to someone who might want to make it into a wig someday. It’s long, painful and expensive.

I know that if you truly want something then pain and competition shouldn’t put you off. I guess it should drive you, but there is no way I can say that I was even remotely passionate about sitting in the same office seat for 60 hours a week. Forcing information into my brain that just did not interest or stimulate me. Working in the law firm made me the most paranoid I have ever been.  I was miserable. I did anything and everything to distract myself and I worried obsessively that I wasn’t good enough.

My peers at University were (and still are) exceptional, driven people who are so intelligent I often felt l like a rigid sack of potatoes when sat in lectures with them. Many of my friends will go far, many of them are already the most successful people I know. But for me, I always felt like a bit of an oddball, a bit lacking somewhere along the line. I once had a seminar where we were asked ‘what do you want to be in the future?’ The replies from the others were exactly what you would expect a group of highly intelligent practising lawyers to say: ‘I’m interested in Corporate law”I want to be in politics’ ‘I want to be a top Barrister’ ‘a Judge’. However, my reply was a little more unorthodox… ‘I want to live in a house by the sea and grow my own vegetables.’

Yes, you can just imagine the faces. Paying thousands and thousands of pounds for my education and I’d said that. I know now that I said it because I had no idea. I was terrified. I loved my degree, filling my brain with that sawdust of knowledge and experience. I did well in my exams, was annoyingly into extra-curricular activities and I still managed to rave. I knew I wasn’t going to fail by any means, but I didn’t actually have any clue what to do with myself.

And anyway, everything ‘sensible’ thing I applied to do in law rejected me from doing it and anything that seemed like a fun thing to do appeared to harm my future as a serious lawyer. How could I justify travelling? Doing a season? I needed to work, be successful. Buy shit.

Where the Mojito was made. Rejoice! Havana, Cuba.In part, Facebook is to blame to my QLC. Those of us that have an addiction to it, which let’s face it, seems to be the majority of the world, know that the more you use it the worse it gets. Every day some online friend gets married, buys a house or a dog, meets a famous person, goes to an exclusive gig or, the worst in my opinion, travels to somewhere incredible. The real twist of the knife is if they have pictures of themselves surfing in water temperatures above 15 degrees. That really breaks my heart.

Cut to me after an awful day at work combined with my third training contract rejection of the week. I scrolled through my timeline to see two facebook friends smiling from Bali. Mascara dripping down my face, wine in hand, I stared at a flight on Sky Scanner.  I just did it. I booked a flight and I downed my wine.

It makes me laugh now to think that the bravest thing I had ever done in my life up to that point was to book a one-way ticket to Mexico. Why? I have done so many things since; jumped off bridges, volcano boarding, caving, surfing in an area home to crocodiles, fallen in love in paradise, riding horses through the jungle. Hell, I lived and worked in one of the most dangerous countries in the world (El Salvador has the most homicides of any country not at war – please go though!! The people have the strongest will for their country to overcome this, the land is beautiful) I guess what I am saying is: life cannot be experienced until you get out of your comfort zone and stop worrying about where you will end up. Try something a little different.

I’d been travelling since May 2014 throughout all of Central America and I came to the rather scary decision to settle for a while in Costa Rica, in a small but wonderful town called Samara. Lonely Planet describes this place as ‘The Black Hole of Happiness’ and I can attest to that. I was not shy about showing off my new home to the online world.

I lived in a town with no more than 3,000 people. Mainly local Costa Ricans lived there but there were Europeans and Americans too. I think the reason I loved it so much was that I was one of only 3 British people not just passing through. On the Central American surf loop it’s hard to find a spot that’s not overrun with a) gap yah kids b) Australians/North Americans who are far too good at surfing c) locals who are far too good at surfing who don’t want to kill you whilst you attempt to get better at surfing. Samara had bad waves on the main strip but better, secret spots just 15 minutes cycle away. Nothing huge but consistent and there was often no-one in the lineup. I knew I had found my paradise. Where I could surf and think and get away from the pressure cooker.

People from home posted that they missed me and they wanted my life. My life? Sure, it was beautiful but my life felt no more real than it was before. I was just happier and knew how to relax. So when you’re happy I guess that’s how life plays out on the internet; it almost appears unattainable regardless if other people are also doing cool shit.

Millions of people have all seen the YouTube Clip of the Alan Watts’ ‘What if Money Didn’t Matter’. It’s inspiring.  However, most humans cannot help but worry. All I know is, once you stop thinking about money or career success, come to think of it anything that worries you, it’s like a weight has been lifted.

Survive your quarter life crisis by embracing it. It will work out.

In May 2014 I travelled to Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica. In total, I didn’t return to the UK for over a year. As my mum will certainly tell you: I was not supposed to be away that long.

I learnt another language, lived in a beach shack with no roof, got barrelled and caught Dengue fever. I also volunteered countless hours of my time to help some amazing causes. To say the experience was unforgettable would be an understatement.

Here are a few snaps along the way.

Sliding down an active Volcano on a piece of wood in Leon, Nicaragua. I got up to 62km.
Sliding down an active Volcano on a piece of wood in Leon, Nicaragua. I got up to 62km.
Gran Cenote, Mexico.
Gran Cenote, Mexico.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
Snorkelling with Turtles in Tulum, Mexico.
Snorkelling with Turtles in Tulum, Mexico.
The Unbelizeable Caye Caulker, Belize.
The Unbelizeable Caye Caulker, Belize.
Mayan Ruins in the jungle. Tikal, Guatemala.
Mayan Ruins in the jungle. Tikal, Guatemala.
River Tubing. Semuc Champey, Guatemala.
River Tubing. Semuc Champey, Guatemala.
Up the Indian's Nose for Sunrise, Santa Clara, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
Up the Indian’s Nose for Sunrise, Santa Clara, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
First stop for surfing was El Tunco, El Salvador.
First stop for surfing was El Tunco, El Salvador.
Facing fears. Semuc Champey, Guatemala.
Facing fears. Semuc Champey, Guatemala. Photo credit goes to the ridiculously talented Andy Flynn.
How to survive your Quarter Life Crisis