Welcome to my last blog of 2018. It has been without doubt an extremely challenging year. The scale of the homelessness crisis facing the country has grown hugely over the last 12 months. But, as 2018 comes to an end, I can say with real confidence that, while by no means perfect, the quality of Greater Manchester’s response is improving all the time.
This much was evident on Monday morning when I went on my regular walk-about the city centre. The sad truth is that there are still far too many people forced to spend the nights on our cold streets. We encountered around 15-20 at the end of what had been a very cold and wet weekend. One of the people we met huddled in a doorway on Market Street had come there straight from prison. This is a straightforward failure of public policy and should simply not be happening. We have raised this issue many times with the Ministry of Justice. It is high time that Ministers took action to stop it and made their “Through the Gate” scheme work properly.”
But two things were different about December 2018 and when we did the same walk-about in December 2017. The first is the number of people on the streets, though still too high, appears to be reducing. The second crucial difference between this year and last is that, this year, our outreach teams can offer people somewhere to go thanks to A Bed Every Night.
A Bed Every Night
This winter, Greater Manchester is going further than anyone other city-region in the country in our efforts to help people sleeping rough. Together with our partners in the voluntary sector, and supported by our generous businesses, we are working to provide somewhere for everyone to go every night of the week.
Since we launched it at the start of November, 543 people have accessed our A Bed Every Night (ABEN) provision across our 10 boroughs. Of those, 141 people have already moved on to a fixed address. Latest figures suggest that over 200 people are in ABEN accommodation every night.
These figures give me great encouragement and suggest our approach is working. ABEN will be running right through the festive period and I want to say a massive thank you to all the staff and volunteers who will be making that possible.
This all said, I don’t want to over-claim for ABEN. It is certainly not perfect and can be improved. The truth is we are on a journey with it. I can assure everyone that I will continue to listen to feedback, learn from it and then seek to improve what we are doing.
But ABEN is a massive step forward on where we were this time last year. It is only possible because of the way our councils and voluntary are pulling together and the generosity of our people and businesses. If you are able to help, please visit www.bedeverynight.co.uk to donate.
Social Impact Bond & Housing First
ABEN represents the first tier of provision away from the street. If we are to make a real difference, we need to provide a second tier of homes plus support.
This time last year, we announced that we would be launching a ground-breaking Social Impact Bond (SIB) to do just that. You can read more here
12 months on, I can report that 222 people who had been sleeping rough for a long period of time have now been successfully rehoused through the SIB. Early in the New Year, we will build on this success by awarding the contract for our Housing First pilot. This will result in over 400 places being made available. We will make more details available in January.
Despite all the positive work taking place across our city-region this winter, we also had a stark reminder this week of the human costs of homelessness. Over the last year, 50 people died on the streets of Greater Manchester. Each one was someone’s father, brother, sister or mother. This should not be happening in a country as wealthy as ours and brings shame on us all.
All politicians, myself included, need to be doing much more to tackle this humanitarian crisis. That means being honest about the causes. The truth is that they are many and complex. But it was frustrating to hear the Cabinet Minister with responsibility for this issue claim that Government policy choices has not contributed to this crisis. In my view they most certainly have with Universal Credit chief among them.
We won’t find real solutions to homelessness until there is real honesty about what is causing it.
Blade in Trafford, Tracy in Bolton
I want to end with two personal stories that have made a big impression on me in the past month.
Tracy has a long experience of homelessness and more recently rough sleeping. She very kindly allowed our Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) cameras into her new accommodation in Bolton, which she’s in as a result of the success of her experience in A Bed Every Night.
Her testimony is powerful and some of the language might upset some people, but it is important I think for people to understand what a truly awful experience homelessness can be. Plus Tracy’s story is, ultimately, a positive one. You can watch it here:
Finally, a couple of weekends ago new A Bed Every Night provision opened in Trafford. As soon as he could a teenager called Blade moved in. He’s improved so quickly that he has already moved out of the programme and now has how own two-bed flat in Trafford with a support worker on hand if needed. I’ll let him tell you about it in his own words:
“I’d fallen out with my mum and sister and left home with nowhere to live. I was sleeping where I could in the day – friends’ floors or couches; sometimes in cars – and then just try and stay up throughout the night on the streets. I did this for about nine months and it was becoming pretty unbearable.
“A couple of weeks ago I just decided enough is enough and went to Trafford Housing, just hoping someone could help me. I managed to get into a B&B to begin with and then I was told there was a bed for me as part of the A Bed Every Night.
“I came here and spent a weekend and was then assigned a support worker and we then looked at the chances of me moving into a place. And this week I moved in to a two-bedroom flat. A Bed Every Night really means that for me: from that one weekend and the relief it provides I now have a place I can call home. Off the streets and into my own home.
“I can see a way forward now. Life is so much better.”
Sometimes it’s hard to see if progress is being made. But then you read words like these from Blade and it makes you want to re-double your efforts to do even more.
Whilst I wish progress was faster, I remain totally committed to my aim of ending the need for rough sleeping by May 2020. And what keeps me going is the incredible commitment of so many people across Greater Manchester to this crucial cause.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support, donations and encouragement.
Have a great Christmas and New Year.
Article Published: 22/12/2018 11:11 AM