27 July 2020
Our Manchester service was part of a city-wide effort to support homeless people during the coronavirus pandemic. Head of Services Jackie McVan explains what happened.
Manchester is known for having a very high number of homeless people. It’s like that for a few reasons, but often people come here from other parts of the UK, especially smaller towns close to Manchester. They know that people here are generous, and that there’s lots services in the city that want to support homeless people.
Back in January, a number of different organisations came together to open a hub to help people who had been begging in the city. Change Grow Live were involved, and so were the police, homeless services, housing providers, probation, and lots of other organisations. All of this was being co-ordinated by Manchester’s police Street Engagement Team.
When the Covid-19 pandemic came along we all knew that we had to work together to bring as many people as we could in from living on the streets and into places they could be safe. Homeless people were in very vulnerable, high-risk situations, and we needed to act quickly. Working together we moved people off the streets and into safe temporary accommodation. Teams from our Manchester service went to the numerous locations to provide support and treatment for alcohol and drugs, and to work with other agencies who supported people to find places to stay long-term.
How we supported people
By the end of the first night around 35 people who had been living on the streets were now staying in one hotel. Unfortunately the agreement with this hotel soon broke down. The homeless team worked to disperse people to other hotels and locations all around the city. Our staff went into the hotels, usually on a bi-weekly basis, to make sure people were getting the support they needed while still being socially distanced and safe.
There was a mapping system in place to figure out what people needed, and how each different group involved could deliver it to them. This made everything incredibly efficient. We kept track of who needed naloxone, who had safe storage boxes, things like that.
We provided people with mobile phones to make sure we could keep in contact with those most vulnerable. We also began prescribing medication to people who needed it. We were turning prescriptions around in 24 hours, because we knew that if people didn’t have their prescriptions quickly they’d risk returning to the streets. It gave people a level of stability, and our co-ordinated approach played a big part in making it happen.
Overcoming our biggest challenges
One of the biggest challenges was keeping in touch with everyone who was staying in the hotels. We didn’t want to spread the virus by meeting face to face all the time, but we needed a way of keeping in contact with each person. In the end we managed to build up a store of cheap, pre-paid mobile phones that we gave out to anyone who needed one.
We had to go to lots of different places to get enough. We were lucky to get hold of as many phones as we did, and my advice to other services would be to keep a stock of mobile phones ready for situations like this.
Looking to the future
We’re really proud of our successes. Some people left the hotels and returned to the streets, and a few were asked to leave because of behaviour challenges, but they were in the minority. Many people stayed and made a lot of progress. Now the work continues to find them more permanent accommodation.
We worked with some real characters, people from all walks of life! Every organisation involved went and worked above and beyond to make sure people got the support they needed.
It’s been great to see all the Greater Manchester organisations pull together like this. We’re all singing from the same hymn sheet now, because we all know the people who we’re helping are the priority. All of the groups involved are receiving a special recognition award from the High Sheriff of Manchester.
We didn’t realise what a challenge we’d have, but everyone pulled together brilliantly, and the award just confirms that. Once things have calmed down and it’s safe to do so, we’ll be having a big do to celebrate!
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