‘People are worried about whether they can afford the roof over their head or put food in their belly’

Homelessness charity Caring in Bristol has launched pop-up food shops in two of the city’s most deprived areas

A worker at charitable company in Bristol helping those in need during the cost-of-living crisis says people are fearful over how they will cope amid rises in food and energy prices.

Alv Hirst, from Caring in Bristol, says many in the city are facing with growing problems of homelessness, food injustice and fuel poverty, but that there is hope if groups can work together on tackling the issues.

His group is one of many in the area offering support. Set up in 1987 as Caring at Christmas, it has developed to becomce a year-round organisation offering help to the homeless as well as meals to people in temproary acccommodation through its ‘Cheers Drive’ scheme.

Bristol World spoke to Caring in Bristol’s Alv Hirst about how rising energy and food bills, combined with a lack of affordable or available housing are having a huge impact on people in Bristol.

Alv Hirst of Caring in Bristol

People are worried about the winter to come, with inflation, food costs and the energy crisis. The choice between heating and eating is often talked about, but the picture is more complex.

With soaring costs across the board, people are having to make tough choices. When not being able to meet your rent is a reality, then the threat of homelessness begins to back people into a corner, stripping them of choice and dignity.

Caring in Bristol’s Alv Hirst at the Withywood food pop-up (photo: David Griffiths)

While there has been much talk about tackling the fuel crisis, there has been little in terms of concrete plans. We hear many conversations where anxiety over what’s to come is expressed.

People have already seen hikes in fuel costs, further deepening existing fuel poverty – yet another risk to the roof over people’s heads.

Without a clear plan from the Government, people are left struggling to know when the help will arrive, and what that help will be.

With the cold weather upon us, and inflation applying pressure on the weekly budget from all directions, people are fearful about how they will cope.

They are unable to imagine what their quality of life will be like in just a few months. The fear is that it will be grim.

Housing

Good, affordable housing should be a right for all. This right is simply not a reality for everyone, particularly if you already come from a marginalised community or have to get by on a low income.

A volunteer from Caring in Bristol at the Bristol Goods food pop-up in Withywood (photo: David Griffiths)

Caring in Bristol believes that homelessness can be prevented. Our Early Doors project is active in several communities across Bristol, working with them to provide support, information, and advice so that people can understand what their choices are and take positive action. This can prevent the disaster of people losing their home.

We meet tenants who are facing issues around disrepair, overcrowding and unethical landlords. Ensuring that they know their rights and options, and that they don’t have to deal with these things alone is a massive relief for them.

We have recently been running workshops to help people understand the housing system in Bristol, and to understand how the Housing Ombudsmen can help them to tackle unresponsive landlords and resolve long-running issues that have gone ignored.

Food ‘deserts’

Two areas [Withywood and Hartcliffe] of Bristol sit within the top five of the most deprived food ‘deserts’ in England. These are neighbourhoods that are served by two or fewer supermarkets compared to other areas which might be served by up to seven.

Naturally, this restricts access to a wider range of foods, including healthy fresh foods. Increased transport costs, and lack of transport in the first place, mean that travelling out of your own neighbourhood for your shopping has become out of reach for many.

Our food project, Bristol Goods, provides pop-up shops in Hartcliffe and Withywood. These use a subscription-based model and bring affordable good quality fresh foods and dry goods into the community.

The Caring in Bristol food pop-ups in Hartcliffe and Withywood provide local people with essential food supplies (photo: David Griffiths)

This helps to reduce the financial squeeze that people are feeling and moves them further back from the threat homelessness. The pop-ups are regularly attended by workers with expertise in the housing field, so advice around a range of issues is available.

Failing system

Homelessness, insecure housing, food injustice and fuel poverty were all problems before the current crisis. What’s different now is the severity. It points towards systems that are failing people.

We live in a city that is very unequal. There are many people who won’t feel the effects of the cost-of-living crisis we are experiencing anywhere near as severely as people at the other end of the scale.

People who are going to be absolutely crushed by it. People are fearful and that’s no way for anyone to live.

People are worried about whether they can afford the roof over their head or put food in their belly and the ability to keep warm.

We know there are areas in Bristol where people are suffering far more than their counterparts in other areas of the city. We believe that everyone in Bristol should have good quality, affordable homes to live in.

We know that it is possible, and by working together as a city at all levels we can change things for the better. This is what we are working towards. A city that is empowered to solve homelessness.

For more on Caring in Bristol, visit its website by clicking here.