Rough sleeping, crime, and alcohol and drug abuse will “spiral out of control” in Bath if Council funding to charities is slashed, people who have experienced homelessness in the city have warned.

For decades, Julian House has helped Bath’s most vulnerable. Now the charity is vulnerable itself, as Bath and North East Somerset Council considers making major cuts to the money it gives them and other frontline organisations to support their work.

After an outcry over the planned £802k cut in charity funding, the council has rowed back and said the cut will now be made over two years to avoid a “cliff edge.” But the council — which is scrambling to plug a £24.5m hole in its finances in the next financial year — warned that the planned cuts in this area will still need to happen.

“I hope that the council think carefully about what they are doing here, because this would be detrimental to a lot of people, these cuts. And this is a vital ground service that leads to a lot of other services. If services like this were cut, it could lead to people not getting services higher up,” said Michael Dixon, who is currently staying at Julian House’s Manvers Street Hostel.

Mr Dixon spent eight years sleeping rough on and off in Weston-super-Mare, for some time, and then back in Bath where his family is based. When a Julian House outreach team met him, he had been dealing with a problem with his teeth for months which was giving him pain day and night, but had not been able to get a dentist through 111.

Julian House got Mr Dixon access to a dentist, a “pod” at the hostel, and spot on the shortlist for Rackfield House, a supported housing scheme in a terrace in Twerton run by Brighter Places. He said: “I can’t stress how much they have helped me since I came here.”

There are 20 small single-bed rooms — known as “pods” — at the Manvers Street Hostel where people can come in off the street to stay. The hostel — located in a basement next to Manvers Street Baptist Church — also has a day room and a kitchen run by volunteers, often including those staying at the hostels themselves.

Roanne Wootton, Julian House’s strategic partnerships director, said: “We are always full. We have a waiting list of eight people at any one time.”

33 different people have stayed at the hostel in 2024 so far. Last year, 116 people stayed there over the course of the year — with a 70% positive move on rate.

People usually move onto supported accommodation, such as Rackfield House and similar schemes around Bath and the district. Ms Wootton said: “It’s an important stepping stone because there’s not enough social housing and the private rented sector is completely out of reach for a single person who’s on universal credit — even working and on universal credit.”

But there are only 178 beds of supported housing in the district. And these are all under threat in the massive savings planned by Bath and North East Somerset Council. The council currently spends £1.6m to fund this housing-related support, but the planned cuts would see this reduced by £552k.

Asked what would happen to people staying at the hostel if there was nowhere for people to stay or move on to, Ms Wootton warned: “They will be on the street, that’s where people will be. There will be a visible increase in rough sleeping and the associated behaviours around rough sleeping.”

Mr Dixon added: “I think people’s drugs and alcohol abuse would spiral out of control. There would be an increase in drinking around the city centre.”

Another of the housing services provided by Julian House and at risk of losing council funding, is its criminal justice service. Rachel Ferris, service manager, said: “We are trying to break the offending cycle.”

She said that people often came out of prison, having had time to reflect and wanting to make a new start, only to be pushed straight into homelessness. Julian House’s criminal justice service has seven beds across two supported houses to offer accommodation to prison leavers with wrap around support.

Ms Ferris said: “There’s 24 hour on-call, but people have their own space. We are there when people need us. We help with getting benefits again when released from prison, job seeking, addiction, debt relief.”

One of the people who has escaped the reoffending cycle through the service is Matt. He said: “I was going through a lot of problems and they have helped massively. I’m like a totally different person from when I first came into the property.”

He said: “I came out of jail homeless and it was horrible until I met Julian House.”

As well as proving Matt with his own place for the first time, Julian House helped him get a debt relief order against the £10k of debt he was struggling with, and get him back in touch with his family — which he said had been “amazing.”

Without the service, Matt said: “I’d be back to square one. I’d be reoffending again, I might even be dead.”

He added that he had never been considered on the social housing ladder, and this was the first time he had had his own place in the city. He said: “I don’t want to move out of Bath. I know it’s expensive. I have got my family here. I want to reconnect with my kids.”

Since having a place, he has not offended, his mental health has improved, and he is working on getting “back into society.” He said: “You need somewhere to start from. Unfortunately, some people have not been given that chance.”

Ms Ferris said: “The transition between prison and having somewhere stable to go is really key.”

The service works closely with probation services — sometimes assessing and working with people before they leave prison — and with fellow Bath-based charity DHI (Developing Health & Independence) to help people with their addictions. Ms Ferris said the service was “a massive lifeline for people” and warned: “The impact of shutting any of these services would be enormous.”

She said: “It seems like a false economy to cut the budget to help people where they are in the community and push them back into prison.”

The council has now rowed back on the speed at which it plans to make the cuts following warnings from the sector that they would cost the council more in the long run. In a statement, council cabinet member for resources Mark Elliott said: “We greatly value our third sector partners and we’ve listened carefully to the concerns they’ve raised as we work to balance our budget.

“The council is under significant financial pressure, so we will still need to make savings in this area, as we are doing across the whole council. These specific community service contracts have not been looked at for some time, so it is reasonable we consider them as part of our budget process. However, we are acutely aware of the risk that a decrease in funding for preventative services may create an increase in costs for statutory services we provide in the future.

“In order to address this, the council’s 2024/25 budget proposal has been amended to take into account the feedback we have received and we are now proposing to make any changes carefully over two years, avoiding a sudden cliff edge.

“In addition, central government recently announced that extra, one-off, funding will be available for social services for the next financial year. Once we receive notification of grant allocation and guidance, we will make decisions on how this is applied in a budget context. So I want to reassure our third sector partners that we will work closely with them. Clearly, we would wish to maintain contracts that are cost-effective in preventing pressure on statutory services.”

But it is not just the council struggling under recent financial pressures. Ms Wootton warned: “The cost of living crisis is pushing a lot of people towards homelessness.”

As people struggle to find affordable housing in the area, people are being pushed not just onto the streets, but onto the river too. Ms Wootton said: “We are seeing more and more other people who would otherwise become homeless spend quite a lot of money on buying a boat. And then they are struggling.”

Living on a boat is increasingly being seen as a solution to the housing crisis, but she warned that it is “not a simple or easy life” — particularly through the winter. Many people struggle to maintain their boats, with several sinking in recent years. Julian House’ travelling communities support service can help people in this situation find the financial support they need to keep their boats on the river.

The service is also a key part of the response to meet Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities that pull up in the area, and supports people in the communities — which face a high degree of racism and social exclusion — who have adult literacy problems by talking them through life admin and letters they are sent. Now this service is also at risk in the proposed cuts — as is the outreach service which puts homeless people in touch with the hostel at Manvers Street in the first place.

Julian House only found out about the planned cuts on January 4, when the news came as a “complete surprise.” People at the Manvers Street Hostel — staff and service users alike — have pulled together over the fight to protect the “vital service.”

Katie Thatcher, who works at the hostel, said that people staying at the hostel had been telling her that they were worried about her job being at risk. She said: “They all look for each other here — and they all look out for us.”

Mr Dixon said: “It’s like a big family here. […] The staff are amazing.”

He added: “They shouldn’t be making cuts. They should be building more of these places.”

Ms Wootton said the hostel could be a “challenging environment” for some people, depending on what they had gone through in their lives, but said “for others, it’s a complete lifeline.”

She warned: “Our biggest fear is that we will lose the outreach. People who are on the streets need to be met on the streets. […] They are people who have had services let them down their entire lives so they are not necessarily going to trust Julian House or other services. So we need to go out and talk to them.”

She called on the council to let Julian House look at what people’s needs and come up with a strategic plan before the council make the cuts to its funding. She said: “There just doesn’t seem to be any plan about what will happen to these people if there aren’t services available.”

LDRS, John Wimperis