Manchester’s homeless men find sanctuary in The Limes, but do budget cuts open up issue of support for most vulnerable?

By Mary Maguire

A homeless hostel in Manchester is making a big difference to young men but is its recipe for success leaving others out in the cold?

Andrew Turner is looking forward to the point when he moves out of The Limes, in Victoria Park, Manchester, and secure the permanent home and job that will allow him to look after himself.

Less than a year ago, life was very different, as the 20-year-old was thrown out of the family home and found himself sleeping in the park or in doorways.

Andrew says: “I often thought about ending it all. I didn’t want to live. I was sleeping in doorways or on benches or wherever and just drinking or smoking so I could get through the night and get some sleep.”

Rescued by a Longsight-based homelessness project and given a second chance to turn his life around, Andrew is just one of the 26 young men being helped by Chapter 1, a Christian charity that runs The Limes.

Andrew described the early days of his life on the streets saying: “I just spent my nights walking around. For a while I hung around with my mates, but then they went home and I had nowhere to go. It was the worst time of my life.”

He says he scraped by doing odd gardening jobs to get together money for food, but felt depressed and ashamed.

Men living in the hostel are grateful for the help and support they receive and largely compliant with a regime that includes ‘acceptable behaviour agreements’ to manage errant behaviour and a ban on alcohol and drugs.

Andrew says: “I know how bad things can get when you don’t have anything and I don’t want to end up back on the streets.”

However the admissions policy and criteria for funding means that staff are unable to provide for those with more ‘chaotic’ backgrounds linked to substance abuse or criminal conduct.

Matt Harrison, interim chief executive at Homeless Link, says: “Our recent research has shown that some projects are refusing people with complex needs because they no longer have the resources. This leaves individuals who are experiencing mental health problems and drug or alcohol addictions without support to move on and live independently, and staff who are demoralised because they cannot do their job.”

There’s no disputing good work goes on at The Limes and staff morale is high, but is the selection process of taking in only the troubled rather than the troublesome the reason for its success?

Not according to Pauline Gaye, a former foster mum, who has run the hostel for the past five years. She is quick to dispel the idea The Limes ‘cherry picks’ cases.

She says: “We can’t have too many young men who are high risk. It would be difficult for everyone. If someone has a drink or drug problem, we have to refer them on to other places.”

Although the men contribute £6.24 per week each, the remainder of the £205.88 rent is paid through housing benefit and topped up by a £140-a-week allowance from Manchester City Council’s Supporting People budget.

Following a £12.4million cut in the funding for vulnerable people the council has injected £4 million back into the pot to try to stem the number of people with extra care needs ending up on the streets.

However the squeeze in public funding may force projects such as The Limes to have a less selective admissions policy in the future in exchange for an annual cost to the taxpayer of almost £460,000.

The charity claims that working with lower risk residents is one of the main factors in its high success rate and that residents who left in the last 12 months are doing well in their own homes with half of all former residents in full-time training or work.

Miss Gaye, who won an award for her contribution to The Limes, said: “At Chapter 1 we don’t just give a young person a place to stay, we give them opportunities so they’ll be able to move on and live independently in the community.”

Sports leader Dean Ashton, who founded the Manchester Homeless Football League since he started working at the project is equally passionate about the approach the project is taking.

He says: “The hardest part of the job is tenancy support.  We have to teach the men basic skills: how to cook and budget and how to look after themselves properly so that when they have problems, they are able to manage them without the level of support they get here.”

Andrew is not alone in saying how much he has benefited from the ‘tough love’ approach taken by the charity, saying: “I’m half way to my ideal life and I couldn’t have done it without these guys.”

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