Homelessness and Street Begging
I said a couple of weeks ago that I would do something on homelessness but I'm going to start this post with a few words on street begging, something that in the public's eye is often associated with homelessness. The evidence we have suggests that 80% of street beggars are not homeless. Manchester people are a generous lot and so many are more than willing to put something into an empty cup. So generous that we've had at least one example of somebody commuting from London to beg on our streets. I suspect that most people who give to beggars think the money is going to pay for food and shelter when the most likely beneficiaries are the nearest off-licence, drug dealer, or the mysterious people seen dropping some beggars off in the city centre and then picking them up again later in the day. One of the things we want to do as a Council over the coming weeks is to have a real engagement with generous Manchester people about how their generosity can most benefit people in genuine need, largely by supporting those voluntary organisations best placed to work with people on the street, rather than by supporting individual drug and alcohol habits.
Having said that, homelessness is a serious and growing problem not just in Manchester but across the country. Lack of affordable housing, welfare cuts, and cuts to support services have all fuelled this growth and it is an issue the Council takes very seriously. People are homeless for a range of reasons, relationship breakdown, estrangement from parents, loss of job included. The most difficult group constituting the long-term rough sleepers are people with chaotic, dysfunctional lifestyles often with drink, drug, and mental health problems, where their needs are far deeper than simply putting a roof over their head. We have an Assistant Executive Member, Councillor Emily Rowles, whose principal task is to develop our response to the current crisis. We have a sub-group of one of our Scrutiny Committees looking at the policies and practice we need and we have been actively involving homelessness charities and homeless people in designing the services we need.
One thing we do know is that plonking tents in the city centre is not a way of dealing with homelessness although in reality many of the tent occupiers are not homeless. For those who are in that complex needs category and providing them with all the equipment to stay on the street makes it much, much harder to provide the support people with complex issues need to get and hold down a home. I know many people think the Council is being unnecessarily tough with the street camps. I think we have a number of serial protestors who are quite willing to use some of our most vulnerable citizens for their own political ends, including making it difficult for our street homelessness team to reach out to people who need help. In terms of the "protests", we have been able to house everyone in the camps who was willing to be housed, and we are working on proposals to ensure that as winter comes in, nobody needs to be out on the street.