JCI Manchester attends Manchester Businesses Homeless Summit with Mancunian Way Charity
The Mancunian Way, JCI Manchester’s Charity for 2017, run a programme known as Change4Good. This is an initiative that works to tackle the growing issue of homelessness on the streets of Manchester. On Thursday 6th April they ran the Manchester Businesses Homeless Summit which invited partners and businesses to the MacDonald Hotel to educate them on the extent of the issues and dispel any of the myths that may circulate about what we should be doing to help. This article summarises what was spoken about…
A number of news stories were shown to us; the first about a business who donates a pair of anti-bacterial socks to the homeless for every pair that are bought from his company1. The second was about a boy who saves his pocket money to buy Christmas presents for the homeless2. The third was about a little girl who gives home-made cupcakes to the homeless3. The initial reaction of most people in the room was that these acts were good examples of people helping those less fortunate than themselves. There’s no denying that these acts are done with the best intention, but what is the actual consequence of these actions? Are they the actions of people who genuinely want to help the homeless or are they just to make people fell a bit better about themselves. Are coffee shops who give you the option to buy a coffee for a homeless person actually doing something that helps a homeless persons situation or are they just maximising their profits on the backs of people sleeping in the streets? Tough questions to answer.
The difficult to admit truth is, this version of ‘help’ is people choosing to do things that are easy rather than doing things that are difficult but actually help the homeless person improve their situation. It’s people doing the wrong things for the right reasons. These acts of kindness are the very thing that makes homeless people stay on the streets, away from accommodation where the services designed to help them are present. For example, one homeless person the Change4Good team spoke to was given a hot bacon barm and a fresh coffee every morning by a business man who worked in the building he was sleeping outside. An act of kindness. They asked if he would like to go into accommodation, he replied – “No, Do you get breakfast in bed every morning? I do…” So can you blame him for wanting to stay there?
Another example is that of a 19 year-old boy living in one of the tents across from the MacDonald Hotel where the summit was being held – the Change4Good Team spoke to him about how he got to where he was and asked if he wanted help. Again he refused. On digging a bit deeper they actually discovered he had a home but chose to live here because he has a group of mates, they have a laugh, they give him drugs. For him, it’s a better life living here than in an actual home because people’s kindness makes it so easy for them to survive and in some cases thrive!
This has created a situation where there is no better city to be a homeless person than in Manchester! People now travel from across the country to sleep on the streets here, and they know this because of social media. The news stories about numbers growing attract people. People message their friends. This only serves to worsen the problem.
The overall message is that the acts of kindness essentially facilitate homeless people staying on the streets longer. They are given food, drinks and money because of people’s good will, to the point where living on the streets is actually better for some than going back into accommodation. There is free food and accommodation for every homeless person in Manchester should they want it. And, any money given does get spent on drugs and alcohol – you may have noticed some news stories circulating about the problems of excessive spice use4. Heroin is also a drug of choice for this group. The main issue here is not so much in trying to help someone high on heroin but the fact that they share needles which can lead to some extremely harmful infections that may lead to amputations. Did you know it costs £1/3 million to amputate a person’s leg that has been sharing needles. Not to mention the cost of aftercare. A growing cost to the NHS which is already very stretched.
The information given from the summit was not on of just stop giving your money and stop caring it was very much, don’t think you are helping people by giving them your money or food. Even though it may seem like you are.
The approach Change4Good take is by adopting a person centred focus. They don’t stand over them and dictate what they can do for them they listen to those living on the streets, build those relationships of trust with them and find out what they need. These types of conversations have often stopped people from being hospitalised and in some cases persuaded them to move into accommodation which is a huge step for anyone living on the streets. They appreciate this is a mental health issue compounded by drug use and that to break this cycle is a very long process especially when the allure of street living is so great.
We were then introduced to a partner organisation known as the Booth Centre5 who work with homeless people by offering accommodation and building a purpose for them that is greater than the life on the streets. What they do and how they help depends on the people walking through the door, they too take a person-centred approach.
So to summarise, the situation of people living on the streets of Manchester is worsening. What compounds it is people’s good will and acts of kindness that are being done for all the right reasons but just simply aren’t in the recipients best interest. They will continue to live on the streets if we continue to facilitate this kind of life-style through these acts. The work Change4Good do is an essential part of tackling the issue and they need the help of businesses across Manchester to help educate people in what to do and more importantly what not to do. So if you are interested in finding about more about the work Change4Good we would encourage you to get in touch with them – http://mancunianway.org.uk/change4good/
Team JCI Manchester
Categorised in: Charity
This post was written by Simon Anderson