A Woman’s Voice

Homelessness in Manchester

It’s International Women’s Day and I’m writing this post because R, a lady rough sleeping in Manchester asked me to. I met R along with 2 of her friends V and B. Both R and V are women, I’ve shortened the names as I know how dangerous speaking out can be. This post is because every woman needs a voice. So this is one woman’s voice helping another woman have a voice.

Rough Sleeper Pods Rough Sleeping Woman’s Voice says These are GREAT!!!

I met these three rough sleepers as they were getting up, it was after V and B had left that R spoke to me about how bad the homelessness situation is in Manchester. She asked me to speak about the reality and how the council’s propaganda differs from reality. R spoke with the desperation of the voiceless, this post is the least I can do. I’ll ask now, my awesome readers, if you could share this post to give R and the rest of Manchester’s rough sleepers a voices.

Facts of Manchester Homelessness

Manchester and Greater Manchester ( Manchester I include Greater Manchester as well) is a combination of inner city and rural areas. Rough Sleepers tend to be harder to find and count in rural areas as there is more space to hide. It’s also much nicer and more comfortable sleeping ammoungst trees than on the hard concrete of a doorway. There’s also a safety aspect. Sleeping in town centres means your very vunlerable to party goers mistaking your head for a football. However homeless services tend to be concentred around cities and major towns. The choice between sleeping in town or a more rural setting is based on the individual’s reliance on services and ability to travel.

Manchester Council and partner organisations, mainly charities, have many initiatives that purport to make rough sleeping unnecessary. A Bed Every Night Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham’s flagship project is just . I’ll give R’s view on this later. There’s alsoa growing number of informal extended networks of friends giving out food, not drinks and other items in Manchester. WhatsApp and other similar social media platforms are the predominate method of orgainisation. I met some people from one group of this type and can only say they are amazing people.

Spice a major problem

Unfortunately illicit drugs and homelessness do happen but should I feel be dealt with separately as not all homeless people are dependant on drugs and a lot of people who are drug dependant aren’t homeless. Spice use is common in Manchester as well as the other usual drugs like heroin, crack cocaine etc. Spice is particularly devastating because it is cheap and effective at removing the persons consciousness from their situation. When someone is high on Spice they have zero knowledge of their life circumstances, this is more so than heroin I believe. You can talk to someone high on heroin (sort of) you’ve no chance of talking to someone high on Spice. Spice is known as the zombie apocalypse for a reason.

One further point I will add is not everyone who takes drugs is a drug addict, the same as not everyone who gets drunk is an alcoholic. However there’s a perception any homeless person who occasionally chooses drugs over getting drunk is drug dependent, this is stereotypical rubbish. The difference is drugs are more readily available to homeless people than alcohol is.

Begging and rough sleeping is a criminal offence in Manchester under the Vagrancy Act 1824. The police do prosecute using this law and I have a friend who was sent to prison via Vangrancy Act 1824! Charles Dickens must be turning in his grave.

The Figures of Manchester Homeless

R reckoned there are about 200 rough sleepers in Manchester and Greater Manchester. The total number of people registered as homeless is 5564. I certainly saw about 20 on my wander around a small area of the city centre. The Offical figures vary from 268 from Greater Manchester Together who also run night shelter to 195 in local newspaper these numbers come from 2018 figures, R’s comes from her experience. I’ll come back to these figures later as they can’t all be correct. Interestingly the night shelter only had 232 people reffered across 3 seasons. Comparing that number to Edinburgh’s night shelter figures of 746 people in 2018/19 it seems to be under used. There’s far more visible rough sleeping in Manchester than Edinburgh.

The A Bed Every Night scheme has housed 358 people using the total number of beds in October 2019 with an extra 42 being created for this winter season 2019/20. However there seems to be a trend towards people moving away from Manchester City Centre and Salford. My guess is people are voting with their feet because of some element of homeless system.

I don’t know if there’s charitys/organisations that are toxic or even have been taken over by Manchester gangs. R said people with no right to benefits and people over 25 in age are excluded, left to sleep rough. R is very upset about people being excluded from the Bed Every Night scheme and with the Mayor. I’ll come back to the Mayor later R’s a woman who needs a voice!

R A Real Woman’s Voice

The impression I got of R was of a caring lady, despairing at what is happening to her friends and herself. She knows the homeless system well and is a capable lady. I’ve no doubt she can handle herself and is a force to be reckoned with. She looks after her few processions better than most, although she said she gets robbed. The way she said this makes me think it happens to her a lot. She understands the benefit system but hasn’t got her own bank account so uses a friends. I’m wondering she’s actually getting all her benefit money or if she’s charged to use their bank account.

She was concerned how some people are dependant on Spice especially how it leads to incapability. Spice means more than looking after bedding to some. R was really impressed and pleased with the sleeping pods and I watched her help V and B pack them into their bags. R is very much not a drug addict.

Sleeping Pod bag with room for bedding.

I was and am concerned about R’s physical health. She only had one layer of trousers on and showed me her incredibly swollen legs. Judging from the look of her hands I’d hazard an educated guess that her circulation is bad. Combine this with the fact R doesn’t have a proper bag, and how she spoke about being robbed when I asked her about mobile phone internet access, raises red warning flags to me. I am going to see if I can source a rucksack, go back to Manchester and give it to her. I wouldn’t want to do R a disservice by saying she’s vunlerable, she is far more capable than most but the facts speak for themselves.

Voiceless? Hear that Woman’s Voice

R’s frustration at the council is clear, it’s probably driven by the amount of publicity surrounding A Bed Every Night which doesn’t match reality. She talked about how the Polish and over 30’s like herself are excluded from the scheme.

The way R showed more concern for others than herself led me to promise her I’d write this. R’s sense of voicelessness, being overlooked, done to was extremely evident. The hope in her eyes when I mentioned this blog………..I hope the world gives this woman’s voice the respect she deserves.

Dodginess?

From my own experience ‘gatekeeping‘ practices are used by some councils in Manchester. I strongly suspect cash incentives are given to private landlords to house rough sleepers in properties not fit for human habitation. Below are a few pictures of where I was put in Manchester. I paid all housing costs myself.

Electricity Meter Area of Private Let to Rough Sleepers
Bathroom Window was smashed Unsecured boards each side. Landlord never heard my voice.
Fire Alarm pannel Red lights indicate there’s a fire

Legally the property shown in the pictures counts as enough to end my homelessness. Please excuse me for not celebrating. I walked out after 2 months of being harassed by another resident and landlord not fixing bathroom window. I also couldn’t afford heating and water costs. No water meter so forced to pay couples rate of £50+ each month. I get £317 a month benefits. R and her friends would be unlikely to even get this level of housing. Is homelessness just an issue of permanent roof over your head?

Night Shelters

Let’s look at the night shelters. I’ve been in a few in both England and Scotland. I prefer to be outside. Night shelters are usually in churches or civic halls. Night shelters tend to have the capacity to sleep between 40 and 75 people a night. They are open over the winter months, its unlikely you will find a night shelter in the summer. Thin mattress or canvas camp bed is the norm but sometimes thicker mattresses are used.

Night Shelter mattress

Night Shelters are noisy places before lights out, which is usually between 10:30pm and midnight. You have to be gone by 7 or 7:30am and will be given about 30minutes between lights on wake up and being out of the door. There is usually 1 toliet for every 6 to 15 people depending on size of the shelter and space being used. You will usually be given a hot drink and some toast in the morning. Night shelters always stink of stale sweat and cheesy feet. The sound of a night shelter after lights out is snoring, farts and occasionally someone shouting in their sleep. The most that will divide male and female sleeping areas is a poster display board. Some night shelters check people for weapons some don’t.

However the main reasons I don’t like night shelters is the way people are treated, risk of violence and lack of privacy. When you go to a night shelter regardless of any statements the organisers make you are there to sleep. It doesn’t matter what’s happened to you that day, if you’ve been attacked, if your grieving, if the council has considered and refused your application, any display of distress is likely to result in a ban and being labelled as mentally ill.

How grateful would you feel?

Being homeless is tough but there are good days and bad days same as everyone else. What’s worse is favouritism is rife. Another word for favouritism by services is discrimination but saying that will result in a lifetime ban for being ungrateful. There’s an unwritten rule that states rough sleepers must be grateful to have any roof over their heads. Try telling that to a domestic violence victim or someone who has been trafficked.

R touched on this when she told me about how she and others were housed for a few nights in tourist hotels under the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) designed to stop people freezing to death. SWEP is only enacted if temperature is at freezing zero degrees or lower 3 nights in a row. Local connection is sometimes used to exclude people although there shouldn’t be any exclusion criteria.

R said some people were housed in a hotel with a swimming pool but continued excessively using drugs instead of making use of it. She was housed in a far lower quality hotel. Is R’s level of capability leading to substandard treatment by homeless services? Who’s blocking this woman’s voice.

Drug dealers tend to be unwittingly treated favourably by homeless service providers as do those who are drug dependant. Being drug dependant doesn’t mean you can’t be a drug dealer as well. People who have key roles in the illegal drug industry, be that customer or supplier tend to also be very good at playing the homelessness incapability game. I suspect R, like me, refuses to play this game. For legal reasons I’m not saying any more on the drug homelessness industry but I could as I suspect could R.

Political The Mayor’s Voice

R really wanted me to name the Mayor of Manchester as a big homelessness baddie. I don’t usually put individuals names in my blog but after some brief digging I feel I should. Andy Burnham is the Mayor of Manchester and has put a lot of effort into publicising his Bed Every Night scheme which will apparently eradicate rough sleeping in Manchester. Strong words which I see little evidence of and neither does R she would know.

Homelessness is being used as a political weapon. I doubt that there are many rough sleepers who are happy that their misery is being used to create the next Prime Minister, especially when they’re still rough sleeping. Manchester is a politically active area. There are lots of political activist groups and a lot of governmental departments that used to be based in London have moved there. I refuse to blindly back any political party but know the pain of austerity. I hope people click the Andy Burnham link in the last paragraph.

All I will say is don’t fall for propaganda and use the common sense information your eyes provide. Keep an open mind and do your research holistically. If I can use a broken mobile phone to check out the truth I’m sure you’ve all got more computer power than that. Homelessness is highly political and not everyone wants it to end. Homelessness is also worth a lot of money to some people who are definately not homeless. I feel that I may feel some of the anger in that rough sleeping woman’s voice.

Homeless Health Care

Rough sleeping is hard on the body. I can’t help thinking about how swollen R’s legs were and how her friends hands didn’t look much better. Accessing health services when homeless is hard. Health services which are specifically for homeless people aren’t the best and if you need referring to a specialist good luck. Extracting blood from stones is easier than getting a specialist referral from a GP for homeless.

Entrance to homeless GP Edinburgh

Health services specifically for people who are homeless tend to have similar problems as described in the section about night shelters. Plus it’s very hard to find any information about accessing physical health services. There’s plenty of research based evidence about problems accessing addiction and mental health services. Prehaps homeless people don’t have any physical health needs and perhaps we’re all mentally ill drug addicts at the peak of physical wellness. Dont you just love sterotypes.

At the moment I’m only allowed to access my GP via the phone. Asking how someone can be can be physically examined over the phone is likely to result in the police being called. I worked for the NHS before I became homeless. I choose complete destitution with a negative weekly income so I could have the chance of being a fully qualified and registered nurse. In May 2019 I got charged for the effects of concussion in A+E. Luckily the case was dropped, lack of evidence.

Why do R, her friends in Manchester who looking in a bad way, and most rough sleepers find it hard to get adequate health care? Listen to the propaganda or listen to that woman’s voice.

True Women’s Voices

Well its not International Women’s Day anymore. Broken phone, poor signal and battery life has led to missing the deadline. Women’s voices like R’s are seldom heard. Do we need a special day to hear a woman’s voice and ignore the voice of women for the rest of the year?

I’m leaving this in your hands and mouse clicks. It’s up to you to decide how much our voices are heard. You can tell in your hearts what we are. Share, tell your friends, strike up a discussion. Its you readers who decide if R’s woman’s voice is heard. Thank you for reading and please remember the poster display boards in the night shelters.

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