Supporting homeless people is very much on people’s minds as winter sets in, and in Stockport I am concerned to see a rise in the numbers of people sleeping rough in the town centre. We are fortunate to have the Wellspring which offers help- with the generous support of local people and businesses – for example through the Rucksack Project which encourages donations of rucksacks and warm winter clothing.
However it is sometimes hard to be successful in getting long term rough sleepers off the streets for a number of reasons.
Preventing homelessness in the first place must be the way forward.
If the Homelessness Reduction Bill which has cross party support becomes law it will place a duty on the local council to prevent homelessness by working with those at risk, through personalised support plans which also state the support that is needed to prevent homelessness. Obviously this will need more cash and the government needs to make sure that is given to local councils .This bill will benefit young single people. At the moment many of them are not deemed to be in priority need under the current homeless legislation and often receive no help. Often they leave home because of family problems and end up ‘staying with friends ‘in unsafe situations. Some sadly end up living on the streets. That is why it is important to prevent homelessness in the first place.
Last week I spoke at the national conference of Nightstop in Manchester. This is a charity in which local trained volunteers offer a bed in their spare room, for a short period with the aim of helping the young person into long term accommodation or getting a family problem resolved so they can return home. This is vital support for young or other vulnerable people who might otherwise end up in unsafe situations with ‘friends’, sleeping on the street, facing violence, dropping out of college, losing their job or becoming ill. This is a great community resource and I hope it will take off in Stockport with your help.
However welcome this bill is we also need to build desperately needed homes that people can afford. Otherwise in the future it is inevitable that homelessness will increase.
Homeless people in Greater Manchester and Stockport have handmade the first history of British homelessness, which had its debut at the Houses of Parliament this week. The Homeless Library is supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund and partnered with The Wellspring, The Booth Centre, and Bury Art Museum.
Stockport MP Ann Coffey, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, opened the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall of the House of Commons at 3pm on May 24, 2016. The exhibition will be on display in Parliament for the rest of the week and then go on to public exhibition at the Southbank Festival of Love, 9 July-18 September and will tour venues in NW England.
The Homeless Library has been made by local homeless people and opens up previously untold stories of the lives of homeless people through interviews, artworks, poems and handmade books. This unique and unprecedented history of British homelessness has been devised by arts organisation arthur+martha.
Ann Coffey said:
“This project is both a piece of history and an art piece. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like it before. It’s beautiful. This is not only a history of facts, the very material of each of these handmade books in The Homeless Library tells its own story. It is full of emotion. I feel I can reach out and touch it.”
“These are fascinating stories that need to be heard. Being heard is something that everybody needs, it makes us a society. Maybe these books are something we can all learn from – and maybe we can help the storytellers.”
Many homeless people live and die as ‘invisibles’. When they die their very existence sometimes leaves no mark. This project opens up an untold chronicle, that exists off the pages of official history books.
Instead, it is a history based on conversations: people’s descriptions of their own lives, as told by contemporary homeless people and also older people who witnessed homelessness from the 1930s onwards. Along with interviews, there are artworks and poems.
PHOTO TO LEFT: Ann Coffey opening the Homeless Library exhibition at the House of Commons with (l to r) Jonathan Billings (Manager, The Wellspring), Marcus Jones MP (Housing Minister) Lawrence McGill, Kenny Weaver, Lois Blackburn (Co-Director, arthur+martha CIC);
PHOTO TO RIGHT: (l to r) Philip Davenport (Co-Director of arthur+martha CIC), Lawrence McGill (project participant) and Ann Coffey MP
Photography by Paul Jones.