harder and harder times

May 22, 2013

Piece from this week’s Big Issue in the North about the sorry case of the closure of Salford’s Narrowgate shelter; a confusion over whether night shelters should receive housing benefits led to a tragic situation where dozens of rough sleepers were left with nowhere to go. Thankfully a public outcry has led to a semi-reprieve – more in next week’s Big Issue in the North.

The ruling that led to the Narrowgate closure may have implications nationally; already hostels in London are closing as local authorities there review whether shelters should receive housing benefit. More local authorities are in the process of making a decision.

The situation for Greater Manchester’s homeless population is bad enough.

Many are facing eviction as a result of the bedroom tax, and a recent reclassification of those eligible for sheltered housing in Salford means only those with a local link can get accommodation in council-run hostels.

The No Second Night Out (NSNO) initiative – which this year funded housing association Riverside ECHG £200,000 to stop homelessness in Greater Manchester – has been criticised by many, including Narrowgate manager Phil Brown, who say shelters like theirs are crucial to house men and women Manchester’s No Second Night Out scheme cannot.

These include, according to Brown, failed asylum seekers, anyone found sleeping rough more than once, and many with drink and drug problems evicted from NSNO accommodation. Nor can people self-refer through NSNO.

Added to this depressing mix is the recent demolition of Manchester’s centrally located 113-bed Wilmott Street Salvation Army men’s hostel -  replaced by four houses with a maximum of 60 beds – a loss of 53 hostel beds for some of the city’s most vulnerable men. I’m not clear what facilities exist for homeless women.

Yet it is not just Greater Manchester. Leeds is now facing a shortage of beds as hostels are closed in favour of ‘self-contained’ accommodation.

Which sounds great – but the anecdotal evidence is that there isn’t nearly enough of this to go round.

Homeless projects tell me that they are increasingly having to rely on private accommodation, but their clients just don’t have the money required for deposits.

Certainly, it’s difficult to ignore the growing number of people begging on the streets of Manchester.