The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

The Manchester Sleep Out with Lib Dem councillor John Leech

This years Manchester Sleep Out raised £90,000 for the homeless. Jacob Rawling talks to Lib Dem councillor John Leech about his participation in the annual event that seeks to raise money and awareness for the city’s ever growing vulnerable population

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Image: Paul Crudgington

Photo: Paul Crudgington

Over £90,000 was raised on Friday the 10th of November in an organised Sleep Out to help combat the homeless crisis in Manchester. The annual event was organised by the Booth Centre. Attendees of the Manchester Sleep Out were sponsored to sleep rough on the grass of Manchester Cathedral.

The aim was to show the challenges and hardships that homeless people face every night, as well as to raise funds to support vulnerable people across Manchester. Over 400 people attended — nearly double the attendance of last year’s event. Students attended in large numbers both years.

Last year the Booth Centre, based in Manchester’s Green Quarter, raised £60,000 at the same event.  The continuing goal of the Booth Centre is to bring positive changes to the lives of people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Originally set up in 1995, the charity has over 20 years of experience helping Manchester’s homeless community. They are supported by Comic Relief and have been award large grants from Manchester County Council.

One of the 400 rough sleeping volunteers on Friday was Liberal Democrats Councillor John Leech. The former MP for Manchester Withington spoke to the Mancunion about his experience on the night. Mr Leech and his fellow volunteers arrived in the early evening feeling positive and enthused.

The night started with a series of speeches in Manchester Cathedral. The CEO of the Booth Centre, Amanda Croome, discussed the charitable works and aims of the organisation. Several homeless people supported by the Booth Centre discussed their personal experiences of life on the streets. They explained the reality of homeless life in Manchester. A reality that was about to become a lot more tangible, if only for a night, for the assembled volunteers.

Photo: John Leech Press Office

Photo: John Leech Press Office

Before attempting to sleep on the Manchester Cathedral grounds, the rough sleeping volunteers were serenaded by Streetwise Opera performers, comprised of people with experience of homelessness from across Manchester. The positive start to the night was washed away by a classic Mancunian downpour.

Mr Leech recounted the mistake of forgetting his umbrella, a necessity for staying dry for rough sleepers. Volunteers were on hand to provide a ‘life-saver’ in the form of a small umbrella, allowing Mr Leech to stay relatively dry.

Sadly, as many citizens of Manchester are aware, an umbrella is not enough to keep out the rain. Mr Leech found it ‘impossible to get any sleep whatsoever’ because of how wet, miserable and cold the weather was. He went on to say that ‘tomorrow night I will be back under a roof and in my bed – that, however, is not the reality for anyone else sleeping on the streets of our city tonight.’ A sentiment likely shared by everyone at the Manchester Sleep Out.

The Streetwise Opera performers that started the night is just one example of the support work that the Booth Centre provides for Manchester’s vulnerable people. Providing structure and a creative outlet for vulnerable people is a method of managing their mental health and social needs. Arts programmes have been found to be very effective in increasing the long-term well-being of at-risk people. Last year the Booth Centre committed over £200k of funds to Arts programmes for vulnerable people.

Image: Paul Crudgington

Photo: Paul Crudgington

Local Authorities also provide support for vulnerable people. However, who is classified as a vulnerable person is a topic of controversy.  Mr Leech told the Mancunion the struggle of an elderly man who was at risk of becoming homeless. The gentleman was living off of savings after returning from living abroad for several years.

Whilst waiting for the first payments of his state pension the man’s savings were exhausted. The local man had no money to support his housing costs and was on the verge of becoming homeless.

The man asked for help from the Local Authorities, who responded that they ‘did not have to provide him accommodation.’ The man did not meet the eligibility criteria for support as a vulnerable person – despite the impending homelessness. Therefore, the Local Authorities could only offer advice.

Mr Leech provided the man with a place to stay and calls for the Local Authorities to ‘change their policies in terms of vulnerability’ in order to provide a stronger safety net for local citizens.

Although Local Authorities cannot provide early intervention in all cases, such as this pensioner, it is a priority for Manchester City Council (MCC). Early action for at-risk people is a top priority of MCC’s Homelessness Strategy. They are also working on evidence-based approaches for early interventions. Funding has also been awarded by the council to local charities partners, such as the Booth Centre.