Manchester homeless open letter to Andy Burnham: ‘You’re setting us up to fail’

Having very efficiently attacked political squatting in the early days of its tenure in 2017-18, Andy Burnham’s administration is currently in the process of fulfilling his “ending rough sleeping” pledge by potentially banning it in the city centre — and offering unsuitable accommodation. Below, a group of homeless people in Eccles describe their experience of Burnham’s ‘A Bed Every Night’ project…

Dear Salford City Council Homeless Team and Andy Burnham’s ‘A Bed Every Night’…

We would like to start by thanking you for the work and services that you provide. We realise the hard work and dedication that your staff and volunteers put into keeping the services running.

We feel that with the latest press releases from the NHS and Salford City Council and the conversations between ourselves and Salford City Council’s rough sleepers team we are being misunderstood and misrepresented. We are grateful for every offer of accommodation, however the accommodations we are being offered only runs at the present time until 31st March 2019, and we feel that when releasing information to the press that this needs to be documented too.

Some of us have turned down offers of accommodation due to it being for a few nights with no indication or explanation of where we will go after the few nights offered. As we hope you can appreciate, this is daunting and we are anxious and unnerved by the unknown of what will happen next.

Some of us have turned down two nights in a bed and breakfast as we were given a bus pass and a fast food voucher and sent on our own to find a bed and breakfast on the other side of Greater Manchester. Again, we were also unaware of what would happen in the nights that followed the two nights offered. 

Some of us have accepted placements in the Narrowgate night shelter but due to alcohol issues we have lost our place. Before we were sent there we explained to you fully that we were alcohol dependent but one of the rules at the Narrowgate is that no resident must be intoxicated when coming onto the premises and no alcohol on the premises. We were not offered any alcohol support and not medicated to be able to stop drinking. The punishment for us was that we must go back onto the streets for seven days. 

At times you have discussed some of our peer’s situations with us without their permission. We feel that you do not understand fully the extent of some of our issues and we feel that we are the lost people.

Here at Eccles Shelter we have built a home, a community and we feel safe. We think community working is the way forwards to genuinely help and support homeless people.

Some of us work full time, some of us go to training courses, some of us are actively seeking work, some of us have health issues, some of us were presented at the homeless team by social services the mornings of our eighteenth birthdays, some of us are fleeing domestic violence, but all of us are human beings.

We once had happy settled homes. Homelessness is not a choice, it’s a situation that is now an epidemic.

Any of us who have been housed, or are due to move on, it is us that have done the hard work and referrals to make this happen. We have had nobody return to the streets from the Shelter and that unfortunately cannot be said for the ‘A bed every night’ scheme.

Some of us have been given date after date to move into accommodation until the 31st of March and ten weeks down the line are still waiting. All of us have been for housing assessments and some of us have been more than once. We who remain at the Shelter have been offered unsuitable accommodation or no accommodation at all.

When you have walked the streets all night long as you’re too afraid to sleep…when you have been that cold that it physically hurt to breathe…when, no matter how many warm coats or sleeping bags you have, the cold is imprinted not only into your flesh but into your soul, this Shelter is heaven.  
 
We are not ungrateful, we are not too settled here, we are not refusing help and support – we are afraid of the unknown and being back on the lonely cold streets. We need the help and support to be more than until the 31st March; we need change, real wholehearted change.

We are not looking for charity or sympathy, we are looking for opportunity. The opportunity to have a choice about our futures and the opportunity to lead our lives in a way that we choose to. We feel that we are being given hope and it’s snatched away in moments.

Why, when we are being offered accommodation, does it come with a list of stipulations that seem to us to be setting us up to fail? Why will there be visitors’ bans? Why will there be random spot checks to make sure we are home? And why do we keep being threatened with the fact that it can easily be taken away?
All we want is our right to appropriate housing and our human rights.

Love and light

The residents of Eccles Shelter, Angela Barratt and Jannah Speat xxx


For more background on the Burnham era of evicted self-organised squatting, and Andrew Fraser’s diary of life as a Rough Sleeper, check out our new book Invisible.

Hat tip to Salford Star on the letter.