"Homelessness is a complex issue which raises great passions and, at times, great arguments"
Welcome to my latest homelessness blog. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your continued interest and support for ending rough sleeping in Greater Manchester. There’s so much more still to do but progress is most definitely being made.
If you weren’t at first, I hope by now are persuaded of the sincerity of my commitment to end rough sleeping in Greater Manchester.
As difficult as it is, it remains my top priority and I can confirm that it will be restated in line one of my Manifesto for next year’s Mayoral election. The Manifesto is intended to send a clear signal to everyone working in public services in Greater Manchester that this is not a passing fad; none of us should rest until no-one is suffering or dying on our streets.
But, as with anything when you’re heavily personally invested, I admit that at times I have been overly defensive when challenged (rightly) about the effectiveness of our policies. The most obvious example came last Christmas when we were criticised for closing an A Bed Every Night shelter which had only just opened but developed electrical problems.
I still happen to believe that the coverage was unfair. But, in retrospect, I can fully understand why people involved in work to help people who are homeless expressed frustration about the situation.
One such was Sam Jones who runs Not Just Soup. They work in partnership with Coffee4Craig co-ordinating offers of food from some of our city’s most prestigious restaurants.
Sam and I had a sharp exchange of views on social media but we eventually sat down to talk things through and, earlier this week, I finally got round to going out with him and Not Just Soup to see for myself the difference they are making.
I am so glad I did. It is another inspiring example of how people from all walks of life in Greater Manchester are doing their bit in their own time and pulling together to tackle this crisis.
Lovley to welcome @AndyBurnhamGM to our #dropin to see the amazing work @notjustsoupMCR do every #Tuesday he even got stuck in with the brews 🍵☕ pic.twitter.com/XYDHtd39v0— Coffee4Craig (@Coffee4Craig) August 20, 2019
The evening began at Grand Pacific restaurant at the top of King Street. This is without doubt one of the most impressive venues in our city. But how many people know that they are part of a group of restaurants working with Not Just Soup on a rota catering for the evening drop-in at Coffee 4 Craig?
I’ll be honest, I didn’t. But having helped carry some pans of chicken stew out of the kitchen, and trays of bread rolls, I know now. And, from now on, I will always think about that when I walk past or when recommending a place for people to eat.
The food was destined for the drop-in on Oldham Street and, when we arrived, there was already a large queue of people outside.
It was brilliant to see Sam and other volunteers from Grand Pacific click straight into gear, get the food into the kitchen and begin serving. Just 15 minutes after the food left the kitchen at Grand Pacific it was on the tables at Coffee4Craig. How fantastic is that?
I found a little niche for myself within the kitchen team doing the brews. I had actually had a pretty lousy day up until that point but it was without doubt the best possible way to end it. It put everything into perspective. In the end, we served over 80 people on Tuesday night. Not everyone was sleeping rough but many were. It was a stark reminder of the severity of the situation we face.
The great thing about doing visits like this is that you get unfiltered, direct feedback from the frontline about how our policies are working in practice. On Tuesday, Risha from Coffee4Craig told me how she and her team were finding it harder to place people in A Bed Every Night.
I understand her frustration and I know it is shared by many others. Over the summer, we have been preparing for the transition from Phase 1 of A Bed Every Night to Phase 2. This partly explains the difficulties. That said, according to latest figures, there were still 297 people being supported by A Bed Every Night in early August which is an amazing achievement not happening in any other English city.
But, with winter on the horizon, we now need to get back up to full strength and I am pleased to say we have now worked out the detail of the commissioning arrangement for A Bed Every Night Phase 2. We will publish the plan in early September and, now that the NHS are fully on board as a partner, I hope it will lead to an improvement of the quality of support we are able to offer.
Sam Jones pointed out to me how mental health support could be also be provided alongside food at the Coffee4Craig drop-in and I will talk to NHS and university colleagues about how we might do that.
We do need to provide more health support in shelters, offer more single room provision for women, as well as giving people like Risha and her team more ability to refer straight into A Bed Every Night. These are the kind of changes I want to see in Phase 2.
Phase 2 will run until the middle of 2020 and cost around £6 million. Finding the funding for it has been a challenge but one of the reasons why we have had the confidence to do it is the generous support we continue to get from the people of Greater Manchester.
We are now just a couple of weeks away from the emotional home-coming of the great Vincent Kompany and his testimonial night promises to provide an enormous boost for our cause. But, as we reveal today, the Raise the Roof concert also raised over £100,000 which is fantastic.
The business community has also swung into action to support us – earlier this week I met some staff members from Brewin Dolphin who, incredibly, cycled 450 miles between the three peaks of Snowdown, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis raising funds for the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity. The £10,000 raise by the Cycling for Summit Good team goes to a very worthy cause.
Yesterday Brewins ‘Cycling for Summit Good’ team were very proud to hand a £10,000 cheque to the @MayorofGM to support the effort to end homelessness in Manchester.#BDpositiveimpact #makingadifference #Manchester @MrTimHeatley pic.twitter.com/rBPNLht2CE— Brewin Dolphin Manchester (@Brewin_MCR) August 22, 2019
As a result of all of this, and the support from many public bodies, I am confident that we have a funding package that will work. And I believe that we will be able to commission enough places to fulfil, in spirit at least, what I promised in my first Manifesto - somewhere for everyone to go every night.
I am always conscious that this is only possible because of the efforts of so many people. I remain grateful to you all.
Homelessness is a complex issue which raises great passions and, at times, great arguments. But no one organisation can solve it alone and the answer lies in all of us getting together and working as a team. This is what Not Just Soup is all about. Rather than simply providing food on the street, which can be limited in its effectiveness, they are achieving more for people by working in partnership with Coffee4Craig who provide medical support and advice about onward referral.
Most of the time, Sam and the team are quietly plugging away without much recognition. But it’s great that, next week, they will rightly receive the Queen’s Medal for Voluntary Service for their efforts. They richly deserve it.
Spending a bit of time with them left me feeling invigorated and ready for the challenge that lies ahead. Yes it is difficult. Not everything will go right. But I am in it for the long haul. One person that I served on Tuesday said that the fact I was there gave him a bit of hope. I will be working extra hard to make sure that A Bed Every Night 2 doesn’t let him down.
Main image: Harley Bainbridge Photography
Article Published: 23/08/2019 11:31 AM