An innovative scheme which aims to support vulnerable people and reduce begging is being trialled in Manchester city centre.
Led by Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council, the Street Engagement Hub aims to tackle the underlying issues which have resulted in people begging.
Police and council officers refer people known to be begging to the Hub. Here, they have access to a wide range of help including first aid, support for mental health, help with applying for the right kind of benefits and referral to the Greater Manchester A Bed Every Night Scheme which provides safe accommodation for those sleeping rough.
While still at an early stage, the results since the programme started in November have been encouraging. In the first six weeks, 64 people attended weekly sessions at the Hub.
In many cases people who are begging often do so because they feel they have no other option. This project is helping break down barriers which have been identified in those who need help, enabling people to access support to live safer and healthier lives.
Feedback from people accessing the Hub has been positive:
Sarah said: “The first time I attended I received help with accommodation, benefits advice and mental health. Thanks to all the staff.”
John said: “I feel that it’s good as it gives people a chance rather than being arrested.”
And Joe simply said: “It saved my life.”
The partners working alongside each other on the scheme - including St John Ambulance, Change Grow Live (CGL), the NHS and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - are committed to providing a service which is driven by the needs of the people who attend.
Funding has been secured to run the Hub until the end of March but if it continues to be successful it is hoped to extend its operation beyond then.
Chief Inspector Zac Fraser from GMP’s City Centre District, who leads the team responsible for the initial innovation which developed the Street Engagement Hub, said: “We are proud to support this pilot, and I am especially proud of the small number of Officers and partners from Manchester City Council who without their personal hard work and dedication in pulling together partners, the Hub would never have got off the ground. Helping create a service which can address so many different needs under one roof is proving highly effective.
“The involvement from so many partners has been invaluable in terms of the support we are able to offer. We have been able to help and support with underlying issues which are often the main barriers to support, including addiction, mental health, finances and accommodation.
“It’s great to see so many partner agencies working collaboratively to offer such a wide variety of services to some of the most vulnerable members of society.
“We want to make the city centre as safe as possible, helping reduce associated anti-social behaviours, help safeguard some of the most vulnerable people and reduce the risk of exploitation.
“I’m really excited about the project so far and it’s great that we’ve secured some short term funding to take this forward into 2020 and hopefully we will be successful in securing additional resources to ensure this support is sustained going forward for the benefit of the communities we aim to serve.”
Councillor Nigel Murphy, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “The initial findings from the Street Engagement Hub pilot have been very positive. We’re pleased that so many organisations are keen to support this work.
“People who beg are often very vulnerable and we are striving to improve the ways we can get them the help they need. This project is not going to be an overnight success and there is a lot more that needs to be done to help and protect the most vulnerable people. But this is a step in the right direction, working with people to try to improve their lives. If we can help them move away from begging by providing them with alternative options and support it’s better for everyone.”
Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Bev Hughes, added: “The Street Engagement Hub is an innovative approach to addressing begging in Manchester city centre and the early indications are that it is having a positive impact. I want to thank all the staff and volunteers, and every partner organisation, for coming together to deliver such an important scheme which, although it has only been running a short time, has already made a tangible difference. To hear the positive experiences that so many of the most vulnerable in our society have had at the Street Engagement Hub is incredibly satisfying.
“In Greater Manchester we don’t just walk on by – we take care of each other. We’ve made great strides in tackling rough sleeping in our city-region in recent years and now this scheme is helping people who have been begging on our streets, many of whom feel they have nowhere else to turn to. It’s Greater Manchester doing things differently, which is what we do best.”
Eleanor Watts, Riverside’s area manager for Greater Manchester, said: “This is the first time in my 15 years working in Greater Manchester that so many agencies have come together to provide services under one roof at same time in order to support people out of begging.
“By working together The Hub can help a person who has been begging to be seen and assessed for support by multiple agencies in a matter of a couple of hours rather than having to wait a few weeks for appointments to become available.
“Bringing all these services together allows us to support people with their physical health, mental health, substance misuse, financial support, and support to maintain their home and tenancy more quickly and health and financial problems spiral further out of control.”