Bristol Clean Air Zone ‘punishing’ homeless support group as daily charges block volunteers

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Hundreds of homeless people rely on the Blonde Angel Street Team’s supplies every week - but many can’t reach their new drop-off location

A volunteering group which provides food, drinks, and accommodation for Bristol city centre’s homeless community has had to reduce the number of people it can support due to the Clean Air Zone (CAZ).

Blonde Angel Street Team helps hundreds of rough sleepers each week by providing essential supplies during weekly drop-offs held on College Green and Broadmead. Several dedicated volunteers, most of which work full-time jobs, drive their own vehicles into the CAZ which applies a daily £9 charge - costing close to £50 a month to help some of the city’s most vulnerable people.

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“One evening I was leaving a nightclub and saw four homeless people laying on the ground and I asked them ‘what do you need?’,” Explained Sean Suleman, who founded the group in 2019.

“One asked for a Mars bar, one asked for a book to keep past the time, one wanted socks and the other needed wet wipes and deodorant because that was the only way they could shower. I went home, grabbed the stuff along with some backpacks full of toiletries and they were so grateful.

“I asked if they needed anything else and they handed me a list, I went to Facebook to ask if people would help. Thankfully, I’ve got a few followers on there who were kind enough to help and eventually me and some others would wander around the centre for a few hours with bags of supplies which we would give to anyone who needed it. It evolved from there to us having more than 5,000 people on our Facebook page where homeless people can join, comment if they need anything and usually someone else is nearby who can provide them with what they need.”

Sean works full-time as a professional drummer and has his own business - because of this, the Blonde Angel Street Team, named in honour of his sister-in-law who sadly passed away shortly before the group was founded, hasn’t been formally registered as a charity. During the pandemic, the group visited shelters where rough sleepers were given accommodation to stop the spread of Covid. Since the CAZ was introduced, in November, the group has had to relocate its weekly Friday drop-off point from College Green to Gloucester Road - causing the number of people seeking essential supplies to drop.

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Sean added: “We have around 70 people attend these drops every week and we are always told how important our work is to the homeless community. We’ve been told we are saving lives and no one is being paid for this work, we are pulling together with some help from businesses to get the supplies and it feels as though our volunteers are being punished for helping these people - a job the council should be doing in the first place.

“The Clean Air Zone charge, on top of fuel costs and parking charges, is too expensive for some of our drivers. In the last few weeks, we have been forced to move the Friday drop-off to Gloucester Road but it isn’t ideal. College Green is a great location for the people who rely on us and a lot of them won’t be able to carry their sleeping bags and belongings on their backs while they walk up to Gloucester Road. Some of the people we help are in wheelchairs and with the recent weather we’ve had how can they be expected to make their way to us?”

Blonde Angel Street Team volunteers.Blonde Angel Street Team volunteers.
Blonde Angel Street Team volunteers. | Blonde Angel Street Team

Sean claims the group approached Bristol City Council regarding a possible exemption from the charges and says he was told it did not meet the threshold of a minimum of 15 hours of work carried out in the zone each week.

However, the city council has no record of an approach from the group outside a charity sector specific briefing and a question and answer session last June. The council has also said that the group could be eligible for financial support available to those carrying out a minimum of 12 hours of work in the zone each week.

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Blonde Angel Street Team makes supply drops in Gloucester Road every Friday and outside Tesco at Broadmead every Sunday. For more information on the group and how to support it, visit its Facebook page here.

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