This month’s blog is particularly important as it provides an update on our preparations to launch A Bed Every Night at the beginning of November.
It also comes with a sad reminder of why Greater Manchester is working so hard to deliver this groundbreaking commitment: over the weekend we have seen the sad news of the deaths of two people believed to have been sleeping rough in the city centre. At the moment it is not thought that the two deaths are connected, although inquiries are ongoing.
Sadly, these are not isolated incidents. Manchester Evening News (MEN) journalist Jennifer Williams recently exposed how no official count is made of the deaths of homeless people. And Bureau of Investigative Journalism research has established that, in the last year, at least 449 homeless people died.
The scale of Britain’s homelessness crisis, hidden for too long, is finally becoming known. It equates to more than one death every night. And let’s be clear: that is nothing short of a national disgrace.
On the back of this brilliant campaigning work by the MEN, the Office of National Statistics has now committed to publishing regular figures. That is welcome news but is the least we should be doing. Here in Greater Manchester, we are developing a comprehensive commitment to recording, investigating and learning from all homeless deaths, including those in temporary accommodation. We will be consulting in the New Year on how to deliver this to demonstrate the value of every life.
A Bed Every Night
But much better than all of this is to look after people properly and stop this loss of life on our streets from happening in the first place.
That is what we are all working hard to do in Greater Manchester, with the support of our 10 councils and the GM Homelessness Action Network. We remain 100% committed to ending the need for rough sleeping by 2020 and are now on the verge of a massive step towards achieving it with the launch of A Bed Every Night.
Over the coming winter, our aim is to provide a place for every person sleeping rough, starting on 1 November and running right through until 31 March. While we are working hard on raising the funding we need, we do need your help and would be grateful if you could circulate this link far and wide amongst your family and friends: http://www.bedeverynight.co.uk/
It is important to say that the scheme will only be available to people whose last address was in Greater Manchester. We simply do not have the resources to open it up to people from further afield and we can’t create an incentive for more people to come here than we can accommodate.
Huge work is now happening across our 10 boroughs, together with our voluntary providers and faith organisations, to deliver A Bed Every Night. Our latest assessment is that we will have between 250 and 300 places available when it begins a week on Thursday. Over November, we will continue to work to increase that number as well as making sure there is a range of accommodation available, including safe women-only provision and places that will look after dogs.
We are also working to make sure that the provision is of the right standard and more than just a bed for the night. Ideally, it will provide a steady base with a hot shower, a hot meal and specialist support to help people begin a journey away from the streets.
A Bed Every Night comes at just the right time: we will soon have more supported housing provision being made available through our Social Impact Bond (SIB) and Housing First schemes (more below).
A Bed Every Night is not a sticking plaster but the first stage of a new systematic approach to ending homelessness in Greater Manchester and giving people a supported journey away from the streets.
The ethos underpinning all this is a “whole-society” approach. We know we can’t achieve our goals with public money alone so we are working hard to mobilise the contributions of all sectors of Greater Manchester society - public, private, voluntary and faith – all as part of the same strategy.
I am so grateful to all the people who have contributed to the Mayor’s Homelessness Fund which has so far raised over £125,000. The Fund will now be dedicated to the purpose of supporting A Bed Every Night.
We are also enormously grateful to Manchester City Vincent Kompany for throwing his weight behind the cause. Vincent has committed his testimonial year to raising funds to support A Bed Every Night through his Tackle4MCR campaign.
We need every penny we can get to maximise the success of A Bed Every Night and I hope you will consider supporting it or Big Change Manchester.
Street-giving and Street Support
With the launch of A Bed Every Night, the time has come to get a much clearer message over the public: please support one of the official funds rather than giving directly on the street. This is likely to make a much bigger difference for people.
There are many other ways in which people can help and our friends at Street Support are coordinating offers of help via this link: streetsupport.net/GM.
As we open up a place for everyone every night, we need to ensure that every available pound to the fight against homelessness goes towards the official campaign to help people away from the streets rather than perpetuate the situation or, worse, end up in the hands of those preying on rough-sleepers.
Social Impact Bond and Housing First
The Social Impact Bond is an innovative programme which has been running across Greater Manchester for most of this year. It is a partnership between 15 of our housing providers and charities and is helping some of the most entrenched rough sleepers with secure accommodation and targeted support.
The latest figures show that more than 130 people have found secure accommodation through the SIB. It has been a real success. For some insight into what the SIB system can provide, I recommend watching Michal’s story:
Alongside the SIB, we will soon have our Housing First provision in place. The first contracts are currently out to tender and we hope to let them in December. Once in place, Housing First will make a substantial difference as significant numbers of new places – homes plus an individual package of support – will open from the early months of next year.
Lloyd’s Bank leads the way
Our whole approach in Greater Manchester is to create a series of stepping stones that help people on a journey away from the streets. One thing that has always bedevilled our efforts has been the difficulty in getting bank accounts for homeless people.
My team at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) was approached by Lloyds Bank some time again to ask how they could assist in the fight against homelessness. We asked if they could help us crack the bank account problem which has been a long-standing frustration for organisations everywhere working with homeless people.
To their great credit, Lloyds have cut through some of the bureaucracy cited by other banks in refusing to help and have already opened accounts for around 30 people. They are proactively engaging with Manchester charities to give advice on how to best support homeless people in opening bank accounts and are encouraging customers to support city-centre charity Barnabus at their Market Street branch.
Some people may see this as a small thing. I don’t. Getting a bank account and a bank card is a passport back to normal life and a confirmation of status as an equal citizen. I would call on all high-street banks to follow the excellent example set by Lloyds and join the fight against homelessness.
So, the difficult news over the weekend should serve to strengthen our resolve to make A Bed Every Night a reality. This tragic loss of life should not be happening on UK streets in 2018.
More positively, I hope that this blog shows that real progress is being made. While I wish we could move even faster, I can assure you that a lot of people across Greater Manchester are working flat out to improve things and I can confidently say that our city-region is way ahead the rest of the country.
One problem we have is that it is hard for the public to see the progress. The situation on the city-centre streets during the daytime is not the same as the level of rough-sleeping during the night. The difficult truth is that some of the people asking for money on the streets during the day have homes to go to. Increasingly, we need to make the distinction between the true position on rough sleeping as opposed to the daytime situation.
Two weeks ago, on World Homeless Day, I did my regular early-morning walk around the city centre with Cllr Sue Murphy, who leads on homelessness for Manchester City Council, and colleagues from Riverside Housing. We all agreed that the situation was better than it was a year ago. We are making a difference. But it is not yet good enough. There are still too many people forced to sleep rough and we won’t rest until we have given everyone somewhere to go every night.
Thank you for reading this and for your ongoing support.