Back in 2010, Bristol City Council only counted 8 rough sleepers within the city.
Later, between 2014 and 2015, the homelessness figure climbed from 41 to 97, a figure which is unlikely to be accurate.
Don’t believe me? Take a walk through the Bearpit and Stokes Croft, and you’ll count far more than 97. Not enough people are taking the homelessness crisis seriously, and negative attitudes are stigmatising the people who need support most.
The Bearpit is a very familiar spot for local young people. It’s covered in murals and has music bursting from every tunnel, but these days it’s not what it once was, due largely to gentrification.
Gentrification is an insidious form of urban colonialism which invades and erases community spaces. Gentrifiers are erecting stalls and shops in places where the homeless community gather. Although admittedly this helps small, independent business, it is also redefining the Bearpit, alienating homeless people and perpetuating a cycle of displacement which follows them wherever they go.
As a community it is our responsibility to do something. If you can’t give them a few bob or buy them anything, then just sit down for a chat, and the buskers will probably play music to show their gratitude for your presence. We need to keep working in the hope that one day we won’t have people sleeping rough because they’ve been failed by the system. Hopefully one day everyone will receive the mental and physical support they need. Homelessness should not be a reason to mistreat someone. Being homeless is not a crime; it’s a cry for help.
A tribute to Sammy B <3
Sam Beckenham was a 25 year old busker who was known by the whole of Bristol as naked Jesus. Sadly, on October 24th, Sam lost his life to suicide and it’s really affected both those within the homeless community and those outside of it. He had no fixed address, but I would almost always see him in town on my way to work, and he never failed to show love and affection. You were a friend to even those that didn’t know it.
I’m sorry the system failed you, Sam; I’m sorry we did, too. Sleep tight.
Organisations you can turn to (links in titles):
The Night Shelter is located on Little Bishop Street, just off St Paul’s. They provide shelter, beds, hygiene facilities, and food. Extra services are also sometimes provided, such as vaccinations, etc. If you know someone who is sleeping rough – or would like to volunteer – give them a shout!
These guys not only help with housing issues, but are also currently running thirteen other specialist projects to help young people.
Shelter are a well-known charity – not just across Bristol but across the UK, too! They help millions of people a year with housing support and legal services.
The goal is to help vulnerable and homeless people rebuild their lives. St Mungo’s not only do their bit, but also work with other charities to ensure people are being given the right facilities. The Compass Centre in Stokes Croft have hopped on board, as well as several hostels. They also manage a few mental health services (ACE, Bristol Mens Crisis House, The Sanctuary), which is incredibly helpful for those that have been seriously affected by their situation.
A non-profit organisation run by a few friends of the homeless community. Every 4-6 weeks they go down to the Bearpit in Bristol City Centre and hand out things people have donated like clothes, food, hygiene essentials, etc. There is also a barber on their team to provide haircuts! They bring their music and their free-spirits to come together as a family for those that feel like they don’t belong. Much respect for taking the Bearpit back from the gentry.
Upcoming dates for Help the Homeless:
4th December: Haircuts, toiletries, food, and lots of donated things available, as well as music and general good vibes – also the group’s 1 year anniversary!
24th December: Provision of haircuts, food and toiletries in the Bearpit – proper Christmassy stuff.
A message from the organiser:
‘We came together as group of friends to help those on our city’s streets; we can’t offer them homes, but we can add a little comfort to their lives – even if it’s only for a short while. It truly warms my heart to see everyone coming together from all ages and walks of life. It restores my faith in humankind.’
Photo credit: Great Little Place Called Bristol