‘Is it not a free country?’ - van dwellers in Bristol hit out at ban on talking to residents

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‘They presume that rowdy behaviour, general drug use and disturbance must be the van people’

Van dwellers in one area of Bristol have hit back at a council injunction banning them on talking to local residents.

People living in caravans, transits and horse boxes in Greenbank View, near Easton and around Greenbank Cemetery, are not allowed to talk to people who live in the street’s houses as part of an injunction issued by Bristol’s County Court.

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The order, following an application from Bristol City Council, states the van dwellers should not contact ‘either directly or indirectly, any resident of Greenbank View by whatever means’.

Other measures include the banning the parking on a footpath, using illegal drugs, leaving waste on the road and parking too close to other vehicles.

The move comes after a rise in complaints of blocked pavements, fires, littering, human waste, obstruction of pavements, double parking and the rising number of vehicles.

But the van dwellers have today responded to the rules. Dexter Shallcross, 24, a sociology student at the University of the West of England, has lived on the street in his yellow Mercedez Benz Sprinter since September.

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He said: “There is clearly high-level prejudice in the council. They presume that rowdy behaviour, general drug use and disturbance must be the van people.

“I’m sure some cases are but not all of them. Although in some ways it’s a bit scruffy and not ideal, getting rid of us doesn’t stop addiction, it doesn’t stop homelessness and it doesn’t stop disturbances.”

Van dweller Dexters says 'there is clearly high-level prejudice in the council’Van dweller Dexters says 'there is clearly high-level prejudice in the council’
Van dweller Dexters says 'there is clearly high-level prejudice in the council’ | Tom Wren SWNS

Mo Abdi, 24, a student, said: “Is this not a free country? If I’m walking down the street and someone says ‘hello mate, you alright’ am I not going to say anything? If they evict everyone from here, where’s everyone going to go?

“With the cost of living crisis and everything, people are struggling to pay rent and gas and electricity. A lot of people can’t afford to live in a house or flat. Life is hard, you know. Where is the humanity?”

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Another caravan dweller, who asked not to be named, said: “We don’t speak to the locals anyway. The council says we were offered places on meanwhile sites but we weren’t offered places on meanwhile sites.

“We were only offered places on waiting lists. It’s like we’re being persecuted for the way we live really.”

People living in vans and caravans in Greenbank ViewPeople living in vans and caravans in Greenbank View
People living in vans and caravans in Greenbank View | Tom Wren SWNS

But neighbours in the houses on the street have rejected their protests and say they welcome the injunction.

A man, who declined to give his name, said: “I’ve lived here for over 30 years and this used to be a really nice place to live. Now my wife certainly won’t walk down the road because she feels unsafe. I will because I just refuse to be pushed down by them.”

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The new rules are all part of the authority’s plan to target van dwellers in Bristol. Regulations were introduced previously to enable the council to move them on - but many have returned.

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said it has created ‘meanwhile sites’ on unused council land where van dwellers can park. But they are not big enough to cope with the influx.

They said: “Since November 2021 we saw a steady increase in the number of occupied vehicles on Greenbank View, Eastville, increasing from three to over 40 vehicles.

‘’While the encampment had previously remained at the bottom of the road away from houses it spread to outside the homes of residents which resulted in a rise in the number of complaints.

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People living in the street are fighting to stayPeople living in the street are fighting to stay
People living in the street are fighting to stay | Tom Wren SWNS

‘’These included issues with blocked pavements, fires, littering and human waste being incorrectly disposed of. Previous requests for vehicles to be removed from the pavement have not been met, and multiple visits have been made to the encampment since November 2021.

‘’The impact was reassessed and is now considered High Impact according to our vehicle dwelling encampment policy. ’The vehicle dwelling encampment policy allows us to take action in cases of anti-social behaviour while considering each situation on a case-by-case basis so, after carrying out welfare checks, we started legal action to move the vehicles on from this site.

“We want to balance the needs of everyone living in Bristol, both of those living in vehicles and residents so our approach must be compassionate and fair. ’We continue to tackle the housing crisis, building 2,563 new homes last year, including more affordable homes than for any year in more than a decade.

‘’The occupants of Greenbank View were previously offered 15 spaces at meanwhile sites but these were not taken up. There is now a high demand for places at our meanwhile sites, but they can still join the waiting list for a pitch.”

The order was passed on April 18 and will run until October