Welcome to my January blog rounding up recent developments on our work to tackle rough sleeping.
Since November, Greater Manchester has been the only city-region in the country providing a substantial number of places for people to go every night regardless of the weather. Over Christmas and the New Year, around 200 people were in the warm every night.
We are able to do this because of the generosity of the people of Greater Manchester and the hard work of so many volunteers and council and NHS staff. It has been a massive undertaking and I wanted to start this blog by thanking everyone who has played a part in getting A Bed Every Night up and running.
As I will explain, we are making a real difference to people’s lives and proving that it is possible to turn this crisis situation around. But, as with any scheme, there have been teething problems. So I wanted to use this blog to provide a comprehensive update on progress and a look ahead to where we go with it from here.
A Bed Every Night so far
When we got together last year to review our winter provision, there was one consistent message from our partners in the voluntary sector - is there any way we could open cold weather provision every night?
The point was made that it’s very hard for people to move forward if they’re in one night and then out the next. Giving people somewhere to go every night would significantly improve the quality of the support we are able to provide.
This was when A Bed Every Night was born and a decision taken to fund places across our 10 boroughs from early November to the end of March. It works on an important principle: that people can stay in one, settled place once they access accommodation.
If we’re honest, it was a bit of a step into the unknown. It had never been tried before and we were not sure how it would work, how many people would use it and whether we could find enough places to match the need we have.
We are now about half-way through and I think it’s fair to say that the results from A Bed Every Night have amazed us all.
In the 11 weeks that A Bed Every Night has been running, a total of 901 separate people have been supported by the scheme. Last weekend, 237 were in shelters across our 10 boroughs. And here is the most impressive statistic of all: 285 people have been able to move from A Bed Every Night into a fixed address.
It is clear to me that this approach is working. That said, it is also the case that there have been problems and some things haven’t gone to plan.
In Manchester, demand for places has outstripped the pace at which we are able to provide them. So it is a challenge to continue to find extra venues that are safe to use - particularly in the city centre.
Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service have made a fire station available and we are grateful to them. We continually look around for other vacant buildings that could be used. But, of course, there is a reason why they are vacant. They often have structural problems or problems with utilities. The challenge we always face is whether it makes sense to invest the money needed if it is only going to be in temporary use.
This was the problem with the shelter on Midland Street. We were very grateful to UK Fast who gave us the time of a qualified electrician to try and resolve the problems. But, in the end, it would have cost too much. A replacement for Midland Street has been identified and will open very soon.
I am grateful to Manchester Councillor Sue Murphy and her team for everything they are doing. We will continue to work closely with them to resolve outstanding issues and ensure there is a bed for everyone who needs it.
The frustrating thing for us is that we are trying to rise to a challenge which is not of Greater Manchester’s making. We were promised that austerity would be over but it certainly doesn’t feel like that to us. The number of people coming onto the streets is higher than ever.
Manchester City Council has seen a massive increase in families presenting as homeless and more than ever before are in temporary accommodation.
The Government’s policies are the root cause of this but they are so distracted by Brexit that it is impossible to get them to focus on fixing them.
That said, we won’t make excuses. Given that this new programme is barely three months old, it is astounding what has been achieved already. But it is not perfect and we need to keep learning and improving A Bed Every Night as we go along.
That is why we have a Steering Group made up of representatives from the voluntary sector who provide regular, honest feedback.
A Bed Every Night, 2019/20
Given its success, I have already decided to run A Bed Every Night again from November 2019 to March 2020.
But the question is what happens in between. I would like to extend it beyond March and I am just trying to find a way of funding it. This is where people’s generosity comes in.
The Mayor’s Homelessness Fund is now a registered charity and it will be dedicated to supporting A Bed Every Night. We are hugely grateful to Vincent Kompany for committing his testimonial year to the cause through his Tackle4MCR initiative and to all the businesses who are working with Tim Heatley, who leads our Business Network, to provide funding.
This is helping give us confidence to go further and we will make a decision soon on what happens between March and November.
What I can say is that I would like to make A Bed Every Night a permanent scheme as soon as I can find a way of funding it. Research by the charity Crisis shows that the cost to public services (A&E, policing etc) of one person sleeping rough is over £20,000 a year. We have estimated that the cost of a place per night in A Bed Every Night is £32. This means that if someone was to stay in provision all year it would cost £11,680 - half what it costs to sleep rough.
But we also know from the early findings from A Bed Every Night that people can quickly move forward and don’t need to stay for a year. So it makes complete financial sense to end the need for rough sleeping as well, of course, as being morally right.
Housing First imminent
The truth is we are on a journey and, I’ll be honest, it’s hard when things don’t go to plan. It leads to some people questioning our whole approach or my commitment to what we’re doing. But we won’t let it deflect us. I am in it for the long-haul and, from what I have seen with the early experience of A Bed Every Night, I am confident of two things;
First, that the numbers sleeping rough across Greater Manchester is beginning to come down.
Second, that we can end the need for rough-sleeping here by my deadline of May 2020.
My confidence is boosted by the fact that, next month, our Housing First pilot will open for referrals. This will provide around 400 homes with support and that will provide even more move-on options for people in A Bed Every Night. It will build on the success of our Social Impact Bond (SIB) scheme, which has helped 223 people who have been sleeping rough for a long time into their own homes. 17 are now in employment, education or training.
But we do need your support if we are to achieve our goals. If you are able to donate, please visit www.bedeverynight.co.uk.
I will finish this month’s blog with the story of Blade, a teenager from Trafford.
After falling out with his family, he spent a large part of last year on the streets. Blade moved into A Bed Every Night accommodation as soon as it opened. He soon stabilised and is now in his own flat.
This is what A Bed Every Night is all about and what keeps us going though all the ups and downs. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Article Published: 20/01/2019 14:44 PM