openDemocracyUK

Homelessness in Manchester – the problem and the solution

Manchester city council has plenty of means by which to address its homeless crisis - it is just choosing not to.

Andrew J. Lack
29 July 2015

On the 15th April 2015 homeless people and activists began camping in Albert Square, outside Manchester Town Hall, to protest against homelessness in the city - following a national day of action.

The council moved quickly to evict the camp but on the morning of the planned eviction the group packed up and moved round the corner to St Peter's Square, outside Manchester Central Library. The group stated that they would keep moving the camp until the council listened to their concerns.

Two of the groups activists, Danny Jones and Adam Whelan, met with Bernard Priest, the Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, who said that the council were willing to consider radical change in the way that they deal with homelessness in the city but refused to meet with homeless people until the camp disbanded.

The council subsequently banned homeless people from using the library and staff at MacDonalds on Oxford Road told a customer, Daniel Jackson, it was now their policy not to serve homeless people. Members of the public donated food, clothing and tents to the protesters as the camp continued to grow.

A number of demos and protests were held in the square throughout May in solidarity with the camp, now calling themselves Homeless Rights of Justice. The group vowed to continue protesting until the council agreed to meet with homeless people and discuss alternatives to their current policies on tackling homelessness in the city.

Manchester residents wrote an open letter to Manchester City Council asking them to cease legal action against the camp and engage with the group's demands. The Homeless Rights of Justice facebook page received thousands of likes and a number of articles regarding the protest appeared in the local and national press.

On the 19th May the group was evicted from St Peter's Square and they moved to St Ann's Square, where they remain - with an additional camp now situated nearby the Castlefield bowl. Donations of food, clothing and bedding continue to be made by residents of the city.

After finally agreeing to meet with homeless people and activists, a representative of Manchester City Council admitted that 'things need to be different in virtually every way that I can currently see'. Councillor Daniel Gillard promised real change in the way that the council deals with homelessness in Manchester.

Meetings with Manchester City Council continued throughout June and July, with the council promising to listen to the views of homeless people when redesigning their policies. The council also advised that they were investigating the 'Housing First' model which has proved highly successful in addressing the issue of chronic homelessness in America and is currently being trialled by some authorities in the UK.

At the meetings homeless people and activists voiced concerns that the current provision for homeless people in Manchester is inadequate – with a number of the group describing the poor treatment they had experienced in hostels and hotel accommodation. Concerns were also raised regarding the standard of supported accommodation in the city and the lack of mental health care available to treat conditions - such as addiction, anxiety, and depression - experienced by people living on the streets.

Following three meetings with the council they confirmed that the budget for dealing with homelessness in the city has been reduced to £530K (from £1.2m), despite the dramatic rise in the number of people sleeping rough, and cancelled any further meetings with the group.

Alternatives to deal with the housing crisis, such as the work of People's Property Shop, who provide homeless people with access to homes in the private sector, have been ignored - whilst the council continues to fund hostels, day centres and hotel accommodation to provide expensive emergency provision. Court fees and costs to police the protest currently total over £100k.

On Thursday 30th July Manchester City Council will go to court, again, to attempt to ban anyone from erecting a temporary shelter within Manchester city centre. A move, which if successful, could see homeless people fined or imprisoned for as little as using a sleeping bag on the streets.

The group's solicitor, Ben Taylor, has advised that the defendants are now probably going to have to represent themselves at court as their application for legal aid has been been denied and a review is unlikely to be concluded before the hearing.

Manchester City Council's current budget reserve stands at £339m, with over £25m in the general fund reserve - a pot of money not set aside for any particular purpose...

Homeless Rights of Justice are calling on Manchester City Council to use £700k from their reserves to make up the shortfall in this years budget and fund real solutions to the problem of homelessness in Manchester.

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