Andrew Lack. All rights reserved.
Since April this year homeless people and activists in Manchester have been camped in various locations across the city to highlight the current homelessness crisis and provide a safe space for those sleeping rough.
Last month homeless protesters gained international attention after they began squatting at the former Stock Exchange building in the city centre, with the purpose of using it as a temporary shelter for homeless people during the winter. Ex-footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, who own the building, made headlines when they told the occupants they could stay in the property until February next year and have since been supporting the group.
the 18 properties currently being renovated by their 'empty homes team' will be sold rather than used to accommodate homeless peopleManchester city council have now said that they will try to identify other empty buildings that can be used in a similar way to the Stock Exchange. However, in a recent report to the Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Committee, they announced that the 18 properties currently being renovated by their 'empty homes team' will be sold rather than used to accommodate homeless people, as “they have all been in locations which have significant numbers of supported accommodation”.
The report also confirms that throughout the course of the council's investigation they “heard testimonies of the relationship between mental health and homelessness and further call on the government to review the reduction in funding to mental health services”. The council state they plan to commence work on a 'Housing First' model of homelessness services, to be evaluated by York University, but not until April of next year. So far they have reopened 62 temporary beds.
Back in July a judge granted Manchester city council an injunction order to prevent anyone in the city using a tent whilst protesting the council's homelessness policies. Homeless people camping in St Ann's Square and the Castlefield Bowl were evicted the following month amidst widespread condemnation of the council's actions.
New camps on Oxford Road, which the occupants stated were created for shelter rather than protest, were destroyed following legal action by Manchester Metropolitan University. Despite the evictions an attempt by the council to enforce the injunction was thrown out at court as they failed to provide any evidence against those it said were in breach of the order. Students and staff at the university have since spoken out against the action.
The original group behind the protests, Homeless Rights of Justice (aka Homeless Rights MCR), are calling on the council to use £700k from it's £25.9 million reserve funds to reverse the budget cuts in question. These have seen grants available for homelessness services reduced from £1.2 million last year to £530k awarded this year.
(The page on the council's website confirming the amount of their general fund reserve linked to in my previous article has now been removed, despite members requesting this information be provided online at a meeting of the finance scrutiny committee last year. A full breakdown of the council's reserves are currently available here).
Despite the lack of council funding available for homelessness services it was announced in September that £1.5 million would be spent on parks and recreation spaces, following a windfall from Manchester Airport.
Is Manchester becoming like London? "Bollocks"The new St John’s and Trinity Islands developments in the city will see an investment of £32 million from the council. However, the plans contain no social housing – which, along with a lack of funding and support services, appears to be a key factor in the current crisis. When asked by The Guardian if Manchester was at risk of becoming like London, where only rich people can afford to live in the centre, council chief executive, Sir Howard Bernstein, said “Bollocks”.
Labour council leader, Sir Richard Leese, has written a blog claiming that 80% of street beggars in Manchester are not homeless and that people are now commuting to the city to benefit from the generosity of its residents. The official 'headcount' will be conducted later this month, despite concerns that it does not give a true reflection on the actual number of homeless people in the city.
Meanwhile the council are launching an 'alternative giving campaign', as part of their new 'Homeless Charter', to target donations from generous Manchester residents and “develop a fund that can be accessed by people who rough sleep to help them to move away from the streets and into accommodation that is sustainable. However, the key aim is to educate people on how they can help people who beg and/or rough sleep, and to reduce street begging in Manchester.”
Following the announcement of the 'charter', Councillor Paul Andrews, Executive Member for Adults Health and Wellbeing, said: “Like many big cities, Manchester has a growing problem with homelessness. We know that as a council we can’t tackle this alone which is why we are adopting a new approach involving all the sectors of the city to play a part in helping address the difficult challenges of homelessness in our city."
However, without access to permanent accommodation and appropriate support from mental health services it seems that no amount of generosity from its residents will solve the city's current homelessness crisis.
openDemocracyUK doesn’t have a billionaire proprietor telling us what to write – we rely on donations from readers like you. Please support us if you can.