Bristol homeless services in line for spending cuts
THE homeless are the latest targets of Bristol City Council's £70 million cuts programme. The authority wants to slash the number of beds used to house homeless people most in need by 20 per cent.
Officers believe the council will still be able to meet current demand for places by running a more efficient service. But concerns have been raised about whether this ambition is realistic.
The cuts are proposed because the council needs to reduce the £5.26 million it spends on "high support" homeless people by between £617,000 and £1.2 million. This will be achieved by reducing the number of beds from 436 to between 349 and 353.
The council has six categories of people who need beds, and provides a different number for each. Some categories will lose more beds than others if the proposals are approved next month. All 19 beds for rough sleepers would be axed, along with all 10 for offenders. The 37 women-specific beds would be cut to 32, due to the closure of The Well, a refuge in Easton that helps women trying to escape the sex trade.
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Beds for people with "complex needs" would go up, from 85 up to 115 and there will be no change in the 76 beds for young people. Beds available for people who don't fall into any of these groups would be cut from 178 to 125. Between them the existing beds cater for 1,300 people a year.
Housing services manager Nick Hooper says the council still hopes to accommodate this number, by making sure all beds are being used, more people are effectively moved on and carrying out better assessments of initial need. Staff will focus on people who repeatedly find themselves homeless. Currently more than half of people using the council's service have stayed in hostels before.
Speaking at a meeting of the council's quality of life scrutiny commission, Mr Hooper said: "It's more about how you make use of the beds. We're going to be setting average lengths of stay that are shorter than the existing lengths of stay. You get more throughput and better utilisation. Clearly there are some risks here and we don't deny that but we believe it is do-able."
But a number of committee members raised concerns.
Councillor Alastair Watson (Conservative, Westbury-on-Trym) said: "It's looking quite optimistic, given the climate we're in. There may be more people coming into Bristol, and problems with the economy. What we don't want to see is more homeless people because other organisations would have to spend money to sweep it up."
Other changes will be made. The council plans to work with fewer organisations that provide the beds, with a minimum three-year contract starting this October. Up to five of the hostels currently used will no longer be commissioned, subject to consultation. In total the council spends £10.7 million on contracts through its preventing homelessness board, and the "high support" groups only account for half of that.
Councillor Mike Woollacott (Labour, Brislington East) said: "I'm concerned. I don't like to use the words 'efficiency saving' because we're talking about some of the most vulnerable people in the city."
Mr Hooper said: "We have our outreach programme as well. There's no reason for anyone to be on the streets."
The proposals are due to be decided by the council's Liberal Democrat cabinet in March.