Article published: Saturday, October 10th 2015
Today is World Homeless Day. Taking place every year on the 10th October, on every continent (with the exception of Antarctica), since its inauguration in 2010, it’s the result of online conversations between people from around the world about how to respond to homelessness. And it’s being observed in Manchester today. Various organisations gathered in Cathedral Gardens and tonight there will be a sleep-out at Manchester Central Convention Complex beginning at eight o’clock, in order to spread awareness of the severity of the homelessness problem in the city.
Coalition of Relief (COR) organised the event that took place in Cathedral Gardens. There was live music and spoken word performances, and charity stalls representing local organisations that provide services to the homeless population in Manchester.
COR is an umbrella organisation that believes that by coming together ‘we have a much greater reach into the issues affecting the homeless, we can keep track of and locate people easier, educate and prepare people more effectively, share resources, save time, money and human lives. Together we have created a 6 step RELIEF campaign model for anybody wanting to help a homeless person. By following these steps you will be supporting proactive sustainable long term solutions on homelessness.’
Sam who volunteers with Lifeshare, a charity working with homeless and at-risk youth that has been the subject of several documentaries, told Mule that one area of concern was the knowledge that homeless women are sometimes less likely to access the services that are available.
‘If the resources were available, more women-only drop-in sessions would give women who have been the victims of male violence the option of attending. Often these women don’t feel comfortable entering an environment with lots of men they do not know. Having said that, we do get young women coming to Lifeshare’s afternoon drop-ins.’
Jason, a volunteer for Coffee4Craig, a non-profit organisation that has a soup kitchen in Piccadilly Gardens three times a week, pointed out that the Pankhurst Centre is a women-only community centre that runs support services for vulnerable women. But this alone is not sufficient considering the scale of the homelessness problem in Manchester.
Homelessness has increased 150% across Greater Manchester since the Conservative victory in the 2010 general elections. And in the same time period, it is estimated that the number of people sleeping rough in Manchester itself has increased by up to six times. Government cuts have put great pressure on those who run services for homeless and vulnerable people. The Salvation Army’s shelter on Wilmott Street, in Central Manchester, closed two years ago; it had provided 120 beds. Manchester’s Booth Centre, which provides support to those who are homeless or at-risk, has organised a sleep-out on 6th November to raise funds.
The charity was concerned after the 2015/16 Manchester Council Budget announced further cuts to the Homeless Prevention Grant, posting on their website last December that their work was funded by this grant, alongside another grant from AGMA (Association of Greater Manchester Authorities).
‘Without this funding it will be very difficult for the Booth Centre to operate as an advice hub for homeless people or those at risk of homelessness where they can access advice around housing, benefits, health and legal issues.’
Despite these worries surrounding the cuts, the council budget 15/17 released earlier this year announced that they have cut funding to the voluntary and community sector for homelessness services from £729,188 to £530,000. This reduction of £199,188 to the Homeless Grant in a city that is in the midst of an accelerating housing crisis has caused great concern amongst the organisations which are seeing the effects of the cuts first hand.
‘We provide services for those aged 16-25, but if we had the means we would start a scheme open to all ages tomorrow,’ added Sam from Lifeshare. The lack of help for those aged over 25 was a central concern for many after the council budget was released.
Another organisation present was Community Awareness Network (CAN). ‘We’re not a registered charity, which means we don’t have to deal with as much red tape and bureaucracy. We are attempting to work alongside the council though.’
CAN has been carrying out a survey, trying to find out the different approaches to tackling homelessness amongst the public, businesses and the homeless population themselves. The results of these questionnaires have been given to the council to offer them an insight into the views of the city as a whole.
Talking to Saff from CAN, he stressed the importance of a long-term approach to dealing with the housing crisis: ‘If you put someone in a house, you isolate them. We need to address the underlying issues to see long-term results such as mental health care and dependency issues.’
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