The number of rough sleepers in England has risen for seven consecutive years. And whilst the government seems to be doing everything it can to make matters worse, people in Bristol have started an innovative project to help those abandoned to the streets.

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All over the city, warm clothing is appearing – scarves tied to lampposts, woolly hats left on bollard, whole racks of coats. Each item has a tag with the words: ‘I am not lost. Take me if you need me’.

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The project is the initiative of Keep Bristol Warm, which says it wants to ‘challenge the perception that homeless people are any different from the rest of us’.

The group has also launched two other related projects: Street Paws, which provides veterinary services, dog coats and dog food to rough sleepers with dogs; and Pending Coffee, which encourages people to pay for an extra coffee at participating cafes, which can then be served to a homeless person who requests it.

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Rough sleeping has gone up every year since the Tories came to power in 2010, whilst homelessness among people with mental and physical disabilities has risen by 75% in the same period.

The introduction of Universal Credit and the increased imposition of benefit sanctions are two factors that have been blamed for the increase in homelessness.

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Housing charity Shelter found last year that being evicted from a private tenancy accounted for a staggering 78% of the increase in homelessness since 2011.

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The charity says that:

The drought of affordable homes coupled with crippling welfare cuts has made private renting simply unaffordable for too many low earners.

Whilst shadow housing secretary John Healey has said about rough sleeping:

This is a direct result of decisions made by Conservative ministers: a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services and a refusal to help private renters.

The citizens of Bristol are showing that ordinary people care about rough sleepers, and want to do what they can to help the situation.

But as long as this government continues to impose its cruel austerity policies on the most vulnerable, their situation is unlikely to change. These people need hats and scarves – but also, most importantly, they need a change of government as soon as possible.

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