Welfare cuts behind increase in North Somerset rough sleeping

The number of people sleeping rough in North Somerset is on the rise. Picture: Getty Images

The number of people sleeping rough in North Somerset is on the rise. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Levels of rough sleeping in North Somerset have risen significantly since 2010, according to new figures, although the number of people on the streets is still relatively small.

Savage cuts to welfare and mental health services have been blamed for a worsening national homelessness crisis, which has left people enduring freezing cold weather as the winter months wear on.

Statistics released by the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government show the amount of people living on the streets in North Somerset has risen from one to seven in eight years.

While this may not seem like a particularly high figure, Barry Edwards, who set up a night assessment centre in the Boulevard, says this number does not reflect the true scope of the town’s rough sleeping problem.

He said: “The figures show there are seven people sleeping rough in Weston this year – which is accurate – however, that does not take into account the 18 people living in sheltered accommodation.

“Often, people in sheltered accommodation get blacklisted for one reason or another – whether its drugs or alcohol – after which, it’s very difficult to put a roof over their heads again.”

This rise in rough sleeping is reflected across the South West – with the figure more than doubling in the past 10 years.

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The introduction of Universal Credit, combined with the Government cuts to welfare, have been blamed for the region’s worsening homelessness crisis.

However, Mr Edwards says the problem of rough sleeping cannot be blamed on Government cuts alone.

He said: “Universal Credit is not the whole problem.

“Drug and alcohol addiction feed into it, as does a lack of readily available mental health services.

“Getting people out of homelessness is really tricky. It requires a holistic approach, which tackles addiction and mental illness, while getting people into accommodation and back on their feet financially.”

North Somerset Council has been working to provide the town’s rough sleepers with temporary accommodation.

A council spokesman, speaking in February, said: “We have exclusive use of 15-bed spaces for homeless emergencies.

“If places are full, we try to locate bed and breakfast accommodation when a rough sleeper is in need of support.”