Bristol Clean Air Zone: Homeless charity fears for its future over £9 daily charge

Helping Homeless Believe provide sleeping bags and food to more than 50 rough sleepers in Bristol

<p>The Helping Homeless Believe charity says it may not be able to continue supporting rough sleepers in the centre if not granted exemption for the Clean Air Zone.</p>

The Helping Homeless Believe charity says it may not be able to continue supporting rough sleepers in the centre if not granted exemption for the Clean Air Zone.

A homeless charity which operates in Bristol’s city centre worries it will no longer be able to help its service users due to the incoming Clean Air Zone (CAZ).

Bristol City Council will introduce the congestion charge on November 28, covering much of the city centre and main roads leading in and out of the city. Vehicles which do not meet the council’s criteria for pollutant levels will face daily charges ranging from £9 for cars, taxis and vans to £100 for HGVs, coaches and buses.

Helping Homeless Believe (HHB) provides food, toiletries and emergency shelter to more than 50 rough sleepers in Bristol. It stores equipment in its Kingswood office but uses a van to transport goods to and from the city centre on weekend nights. The van does not meet the CAZ criteria and HHB will begin to incur £9 charges, something both the charity and its volunteers cannot afford.

The charity is unable to afford a replacement van which fits the council’s CAZ criteria.

Founder Hayley Jennings said: “On a Saturday night, our outreach team will deal with between 50 and 70 rough sleepers, sometimes more.

“We drive our van down, set up outside Cabot Circus, near the Sainsbury’s, and have around eight volunteers drive their vehicles down to help. We have worked out that the Clean Air Zone will cost the charity upwards of £50 per month, not including charges to volunteers who have to pay for their petrol and parking which has risen.”

Earlier this month, the authority announced it would hike parking charges across its car park, many of which were based in the city centre. The authority does also offer financial support to some impacted by CAZ, including residents, small businesses and some charities - up to £6,000 in interest-free loans to charities.

Mrs Jennings added: “There are some exemptions offered by the council but none help us, and we do not want to take out a loan to cover the cost of a new van. I am in the process of searching for another van but it looks like it will cost £12,000 at least - money we do not have. The Clean Air Zone plan feels like it was not thought through.

“I do not know how long we can continue to help those who need us if we do not secure another van before the zone comes in. We also face volunteers, people who are giving up their Saturday evenings for free, not being able to help because the combination of rising fuel, rising parking charges and a daily congestion charge are too much.”

It is likely the charity and its volunteers would face double charges, £18, for each trip as a letter recently distributed to residents by the council reads: “If you drive in the zone across two days, for example before midnight and after midnight, you will need to pay two daily charges.”

Some of the Helping Homeless Believe team will not be able to continue volunteering once the charges are introduced.

Helping Homeless Believe also offers a free, volunteer-driven collection and delivery service for those in need where volunteers collect items, such as sofas and tents. Some items, particularly tents, are then delivered to rough sleepers who get in touch via the charity’s emergency line when needed.

A poverty pledge allows supporters to donate £1-per-month to HHB, money which may be used to cover charges out of necessity, Hayley revealed.

She added: “We currently get around £900-per-month through our pledges, this is used to buy sleeping bags, food and other items we can hand out to rough sleepers.

“We would need to secure more pledges to continue supplying these items as this income may be needed to cover the daily charges if we are not able to be granted an exemption by the council.”

For more information on the charity and how to donate, visit www.helpinghomelessbelieve.co.uk/