Manchester Marches For Homelessness, Will Other Cities Follow?
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
On 27th October, Manchester citizens took to the streets to show solidarity for the city’s homeless community.
Mancunians are saying enough is enough with regards to homelessness and are calling for the mayor and city council to do more.
A coalition of activist groups organised a ‘No More Deaths On Our Streets’ rally which began at 1pm in Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens. Protesters held banners with messages against homeless deaths on Manchester’s streets and marched with these towards the town hall.
The march was organised following the deaths of two men on the streets of Manchester last weekend. According to Manchester Evening News, at least one homeless person dies every month in the city. This may be an underestimate, however, as the authorities don’t routinely record the deaths of homeless people.
Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, has pledged to “end rough sleeping by 2020” in Greater Manchester (The Canary). His radical plan includes providing housing for 450 people and he says the council will “offer a place every night to every rough sleeper” in Greater Manchester this weekend, starting on 1st November.
Burnham, who has been in office since 2017, has been criticised for how long it has taken him to take action on homelessness. He responded to a Manchester citizen on Twitter, who had criticised how long it has taken to see a change in policy by tweeting:
“you’ve no idea how hard it’s been to get to this point. I can’t waive a magic wand & stop UC/cuts. Easy to criticise; harder to do”.
Manchester is not the only city that has struggled to find solutions to its homeless problem. Exeter was named as the city with the second highest number of rough sleepers (outside London) in the UK by a 2017 ITV report.
The issue of homelessness in Exeter is often at the forefront of conversations. In response to the rise in homelessness in our city, the council spent almost £5000 buying homeless people one-way tickets out of the city in an attempt to reunite them with their families. This move, however, was met with suspicion from Exeter’s citizens that the council were merely shipping the problem to another city to improve Devon’s statistics.
Exeter has a number of established charities to help the homeless, with one of the main ones being St Petrock’s which has been running for over twenty years. St Petrock’s has noticed a drastic increase in people coming to them seeking help, which may be due in part to cuts in funding that Devon County Council have undergone.
Simon Johns, joint CEO of YMCA Exeter, spoke about the struggles that the young people in use or need of their service will encounter in the lead-up to Christmas. He discussed how “sofa-surfers”, who would usually rely on the kindness of friends, may struggle as people have their own families staying during the festive period or may go away themselves. He continued:
“At YMCA Exeter, we will be preparing for the Christmas period, ensuring we are accommodating every person that we possibly can and looking after those with us over the Christmas period – we will be here over the holidays – trying to make Christmas as joyful as it can and should be for those who live with us. There will be meals and presents and a thankfulness for the “family” feel that already exists in the communities of our projects. We will also be ready to listen and support those young people as they attempt to reconnect with family over the season, celebrate with the times that it is a positive experience and be ready to support those where Christmas family visits did not work out so well.”
In another move to tackle rough sleeping, Exeter City Council Planners unanimously approved plans to transform the former Spice Island restaurant on Magdalen Street into a winter shelter and community facility for the homeless. Approval for the shelter was granted in September of this year.
Funding for the winter shelter has come from a successful application to the government’s national initiative to reduce the number of rough sleepers. Exeter will receive £481 600 to provide immediate support to people living on the streets.
The plans were initially met with some opposition from local hotels and business who were concerned with the impact the shelter would have on their clientele. Local councillor Phil Bilayk responded by saying:
“We have been walking on the other side of the street for far too long and this is an excellent idea […] To create the image that all homeless people are on drugs or criminals and that we should hide them is a sad reflection of anyone’s thinking.” (Devon Live)
Last autumn, thirty-five people were living on the streets in Exeter. Although the shelter will not offer a permanent solution, as planning permission has been approved for the premises to be used between October and March, it is an important step that the city are taking in tackling homelessness.
Manchester sets an example of the impact that citizens can have when they come together and stand united for a cause. Only time will tell if Burnham’s proposals to tackle homelessness will have the desired effect for the city. Exeter too will need to wait for the opening of the shelter on Magdalen street to see if the council’s strategy will provide a solution, if only a temporary one, for rough sleepers this winter.