At dawn today I visited the nooks and crannies of Bristol’s city centre counting and talking to people sleeping on the streets. I joined the outreach team of the charity St Mungo’s on their regular Friday early morning trawl of known areas where people sleep rough.
Bristol has very good provision for people who are unable to support themselves or fund a home of their own. There are many shelters and hostels dotted around the city centre and I’ve visited most of them over the years. Some specialise in people with drug or alcohol problems. Most provide a room, a bed, meals and just as importantly human companionship and support. Many hostels also have a link to training and education to smooth the path to a job and self reliance. Then there’s the soup run and free food cafes.
But despite all this provision there are still some people who sleep out of doors. The numbers are now small but it’s important we know where they are so people can be helped out of this situation, if that is what they want. This morning it was pouring with rain so the numbers were potentially lower than dry or warm nights. But we found five people sleeping rough, in the Blackboy Hill area, a city centre park and in a service yard of a city centre office. Two of them were men in their sixties. Two were young and unemployed, originally from Poland. The fifth had serious mental health issues. The St Mungo’s outreach team work with about a 100 people a month and they told me that 70% of them have mental health and addiction problems. We gave all of them some coffee, biscuits and fruit and told them where they could go for hot food and a bed for tonight.
After 2 hours the city was awake and people who had spent the night in their own beds were heading off to work or school. We headed off to the base at the Compass Centre in Jamaica Street for a much needed bacon sandwich and a mug of coffee. The Compass Centre offers hot breakfasts and also has a medical centre for homeless people.
Mid morning and by coincidence my next visit was to the Bristol Foyer on Victoria Street. The Foyer houses about 150 young people at risk of being homeless. But it also helps them acquire skills so they can find work. The longest you can stay at the Foyer is 2 years but most move on to a job and their own home before then. I’ve visited the Foyer before to present awards. This morning I was back to open the new media centre and the refurbished entrance hall. The centre is run by the social housing provider Knightstone. Virgin gave support for the new computer and camera equipment in the media centre and I was delighted to discover that the centre is working with the Watershed. I mentioned in my remarks before cutting the ribbon that Bristol’s economy will grow more strongly than many cities because of our new media industries so skills in these areas are essential.
Well it’s midnight now and I’m reflecting on my day which has also seen a visit to the Post 16 Centre at Cotham School and meeting constituents at my regular advice surgery. It’s time for bed (I’ve a Radio Bristol interview on Libya at 8am) and a good sleep. I know I’m fortunate that I can do it in the warmth and comfort of my own home.