Brendan O’Donnell with the Billy Chip. Image: Supplied
A councillor has quit the Conservative Party over its refusal to support a donation scheme to help people experiencing homelessness.
Brendon O’Donnell asked the Tory-run Gloucester City Council to back the Billy Chip scheme, which allows the public to buy poker chip-style tokens at a shop or cafe and give them to a person on the streets to exchange for food or a hot drink, but was told the council “does not promote” any particular options.
He also claimed he was told the council would not put up signage for homeless shelters out of a fear of making the city “too attractive for homeless people not from Gloucester”.
“I thought ‘this is bullshit’. If they can campaign on that four years ago why can’t they back [Billy Chip]?,” O’Donnell told The Big Issue.
Gloucester City Council said signage for homeless shelters was not put up because the council had outreach workers providing information directly, and because some shelters did not wish to draw attention to themselves.
O’Donnell now sits as an independent, after becoming a Conservative councillor in 2021.
“I have never really been a true blue,” he said, adding he had lost his job after being diagnosed with narcolepsy 18 years ago, and found a purpose volunteering.
Becoming a councillor felt like a natural extension: “I did it to save my community, really.”
Billy Chip was launched by the family of Billy Abernethy-Hope, an ambulance driver who died in a motorbike accident in Thailand.
Born out of conversations with his Dad, Jon, who was reluctant to give money directly to those on the streets, Billy’s idea became the Billy Chip. It has now rolled out in local shops and Greggs chain stores across Bristol and Bath, and is set to launch in over 250 Co-op supermarkets at the end of March.
While he sits as an independent and remains a councillor, he will be trying to get supermarkets and cafes to sign up.
“I think some people expected me to drop it after I got my answer, but they are wrong.”
O’Donnell, who represents the city’s Matson and Robinsonwood area, asked the council’s cabinet member for planning and housing strategy if it would “support this initiative and help support this cause”
In a written reply at the end of January, he was told the council would not promote the scheme but “residents may wish” to support it themselves.
This refusal, which O’Donnell described as “crappy”, was the “catalyst” for him to leave the party.
A spokesperson for Gloucester City Council said: “No one should have to sleep rough so reducing homelessness and rough sleeping is a priority for us. Like most local councils we believe in proactively engaging with people face to face, treating them with dignity and as individuals.
“This means advising them on how to get help and support according to their needs. Our street teams are out daily working with people to give them long term support and help them into sustainable accommodation.
“In addition, over the past few years we’ve helped to secure £6.7 million for Gloucestershire councils to address rough sleeping and are committed to our own five-year homelessness strategy that focuses on the prevention of homelessness and rough sleeping. There are many organisations and charities in the city doing great work that residents may choose to support, including Billy Chip for which there are currently two local businesses signed up.”
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