In a recent blog update, Mayor Burnham has outlined his stratergy for dealing with the annual problem of how to best help rough sleepers across Greater Manchester and has called upon local councils to follow in the footsteps of Manchester in guaranteeing a bed for each an every rough sleeper this winter.
Meanwhile, Salford has already taken a big step in helping to provide eight beds and 20 self contained homes to help in the battle to put an end to rough sleeping.
This morning, I have been out and about in the city centre on my regular walkabout, speaking to people sleeping rough. I do this every few months to keep in touch with the issues that people raise and to get a real and unvarnished picture of the scale of the challenge facing us.
When people comment on current levels of homelessness, it is often based on what they can see on the streets during the day. But the truth is that does not always provide an accurate picture. It is certainly true that many of the people in the city centre during the day are also sleeping rough there at night. But not everyone.
It is not callous or uncaring to say that we need to do a better job of drawing that distinction and focus our fundraising efforts on those who genuinely have nowhere else to go.
This morning, we came across around 15 to 20 people in the city centre. One is of course too many but it represents progress on what I was seeing this time last year. I want to thank all of our public bodies, housing providers and voluntary organisations who are working well together and making a real difference. But we have further to go and I believe that now is the right time to go up a gear.
Later today, I will attend a meeting of the Greater Manchester Homelessness Action Network to provide an update on progress towards meeting our ambition of ending the need for rough sleeping in Greater Manchester by 2020. The time has come to lay out a clear plan for how we will achieve this. As part of this, we need to ask whether now is the time for a significant escalation of our efforts, starting this winter.
Last year, Greater Manchester put in place an improved set of cold weather arrangements. There were two big learning points that need to be taken on board. The first is that opening provision, closing it when the temperature rises only to reopen it again days later causes confusion and extra cost. The second is that, when people got the opportunity to stay in one place for a longer period (and they did during one of the longer cold spells), they began to open up to working with services to move them forward.
So the big question that I will put today is this: can Greater Manchester aim to provide a bed for every rough sleeper every night of the week over this coming winter? This is a major commitment and will be a real challenge to deliver. But it is the right question to be asking at this stage of our journey towards ending the need for rough sleeping.
Later this year, Greater Manchester will begin to roll out the Housing First pilot. Our hope is that significant numbers of new places (homes plus an individual package of support) will be opening in the early months of 2019. By enhancing our rough sleeping provision at the same time we will provide a solid platform on which Housing First will be built. It is more likely to be successful if people can be stabilised in temporary accommodation before moving through to a Housing First place. That has been a key point of learning from the operation of our Social Impact Bond, which has now housed over 100 of the longest-term rough sleepers.
Of course, providing a bed every night from October to March would come at a significant extra cost. Manchester City Council has already made a commitment to aim for this and many of our councils will be providing extra support over the winter. But they will not have enough on their own and the question is whether we should launch a new fundraising drive to support this specific purpose.
Today I want to hear views on this from members of the Homelessness Action Network. If people think it is a good idea, I would be prepared to ask the trustees of the Mayor’s Homelessness Fund to redirect funds to the A Bed Every Night scheme. Tim Heatley, the leader of Greater Manchester’s Homelessness Business Network, has also agreed to focus his efforts with the business community on fundraising for the scheme if people agree it’s the right way to go.
If we can make it work, A Bed Every Night would be a partnership with our 10 councils. Earlier this week, I met councillors with local responsibility for tackling homelessness and we plan to start early work with them on drawing up local plans. New buildings will need to be identified in each area. We are grateful to Reverend Ian Rutherford, who leads Greater Manchester’s Homelessness Faith Network, for assisting us in this task. Many churches, mosques and other faith buildings were used last winter and we are hoping that even more will be found for this.
One of the great benefits of a six-month scheme of this kind is that it would enable us to gain a clear picture of the costs, challenges and benefits of providing stable daily provision for all rough sleepers. If it works, and could be made financially sustainable, I would intend to repeat the scheme in October 2019 but at that point consider making A Bed Every Night permanent, thereby delivering my manifesto commitment.
However, we also need to have our eyes open to the risks. There is an argument to say that, the stronger Greater Manchester’s ambition on rough sleeping, the more we will become a magnet for people to come here and the greater our problem will be. The truth is there is no real evidence to say that this is actually happening to any significant degree and, to the extent that any people have come, the numbers are small.
However, to ensure that we can afford it, A Bed Every Night would need to be limited, perhaps to people whose last permanent address before becoming homeless was in Greater Manchester and also to those who have no recourse to public funds.
In the end, the best way to approach this is for Greater Manchester to do what feels right for us and encourage other cities and towns to provide the same.
While there are risks to A Bed Every Night, it would also bring opportunities. When we are confident that there is enough provision for every night, I do think we will be able to give a clearer message to the public about on-street giving. As we know, while we all understand it and still do it, it doesn’t actually help people begin the journey away from the street. By launching A Bed Every Night well in advance of the coming winter, we would be able to send a clear message that the best way to help this winter would be donated to the central pot.
I would be interested in hearing people’s views on this blog and the proposed A Bed Every Night scheme. I know that we are setting ourselves a big challenge and also that, as of yet, we don’t have all the funds to deliver it. But, if Greater Manchester gets behind it, I am confident that we can end the need for rough sleeping here this winter and create a strong platform for the success of Housing First.
Whatever our challenges as a country, we are rich enough to put a roof over every head every night of the week and I hope that in Greater Manchester at least, this will soon become the norm.
Thank you for your ongoing interest and support.
Edited by KARL