‘Changing people’s lives’: Manchester Sleepout tackles city’s growing homeless crisis

Fundraisers gathered in Manchester Cathedral on Friday night, to take part in the fifth annual ‘Manchester Sleepout’, raising money and awareness for the city’s homeless.

The event, organised by The Booth Centre, saw 320 people brave the November cold and damp to sleep outside, but whilst high spirits prevailed, the gravity of homelessness was not lost on the many volunteers.

Rough sleeping in Manchester is at a 25 year high, and with the average life expectancy of homeless people only 54 years old, it has become nothing short of an epidemic. 

Amanda Croome, CEO of the Booth Centre, reminded the crowd that however hard the evening may seem, ‘most of all you’re not going to end up with depression and loss of hope that so many rough sleepers feel’.

MM’s Frankie Tobi reported live from the event

As the hundreds of participants prepared for the night that lay ahead of them, the total amount raised was in excess of £25,000, with hopes that this figure would rise higher.

Speaking to MM, event organiser Amy Hinks said: “There is a real appetite at the moment in Manchester with helping the homeless people in our city, so getting people to sign up and get involved tonight has not been an issue.

“Everyone knows there’s a big problem in Manchester at the moment. People want to help and this is a practical and positive way that people can.”

The Manchester Sleepout began in 2010 with around 40 people taking part, and with 200 at last year’s Sleepout, awareness of the event is clearly on the increase.

“We know that 20% of the people who are here tonight did it last year, people do take away a real lasting impression,” Ms Hinks added.

“Often there’s not a huge amount that people can do, they don’t know whether it’s good to give money to people on the streets or to give food. 

“This is a real practical way that people can make a difference to people’s lives, and it is actually changing people’s lives. We have heard that tonight.”

The Booth Centre receives a third of its funding from Manchester City Council, with further money coming from Comic Relief and The Big Lottery Fund, but the centre remains largely reliant on public donations and fundraising.

Situated behind Victoria Station, the centre helps homeless people to find accommodation, learn skills that will help with future employability, and participate in a wide number of activities that help to rebuild their self-esteem.

In its 20 year history, The Booth Centre has supported over 2000 people, helping 400 get back into work, and impressively serving an estimated three million cups of tea.

One of the centre’s many successes is Dave, who spoke to the assembled fund raisers on how their money would quite literally save lives.

Dave, a former chef, had spent seven years rough sleeping after being laid off from his job due to downsizing.

“The one thing I learnt during this time is that it could happen to anybody from any walk of life,” Dave told the crowd.

“During my time on the streets, I met chefs like myself, ex-servicemen, factory workers. I even met a doctor once who was forced onto the streets.

“The issue of homelessness is not just the plight of one group of people in society, anyone could be made homeless from issues similar to mine, or even disasters such as house fires.”

Thanks to the Booth Centre, Dave now has a job and a home of his own, but stories were told of others who had not been so fortunate.

Ms Croome told of a rough sleeper on Deansgate, who was beaten to death in full view of a CCTV camera.

The tragic story of Jason was also told – a man who lost his life after contracting pneumonia in January.

“It’s the fact that if you’ve got no fixed address, then you’re stuck for things like benefits and applying for a job,” Diane Deadman, a 30-year-old volunteer told MM.

“No one chooses to be homeless.”

NO ONE CHOOSES TO BE HOMELESS: Stockport friends Diane, Nathan and Elizabeth gave away their cardboard bedding on the way to the Sleepout

Along with Nathan Tayor, 23, and Elizabeth Darbyshire, 29, the three friends came from Stockport to take part, and found themselves giving away the cardboard they had brought with them as make-shift bedding en route.

“Some homeless people shouted at us: ‘oh have you got our bed there?’ explained Ms Darbyshire.

“They were joking, and maybe thinking we were shopping for Christmas.

“We went over and explained, and said: ‘Actually you can have some’.

“It has been busy getting stuff together for tonight, so you can understand how hard it must be for people who don’t have anything to be prepared for it.”

After taking part in last year’s event, Ms Deadman came down with flu, but this only put into perspective the difficulties faced by those spending more than one night outdoors.

The increased visibility of homelessness in recent months is cited by a lot of those taking part as reason for doing so.

Some statistics have estimated that the number of homeless people on the streets of Manchester has doubled in the last year alone.

Fund raiser Rachel O’Sullivan, 24, said: “You can just see it, it is right in front of you.

“You take your normal route to work in the morning and within ten minutes you’ll find ten people sleeping on the street.

“It’s unbelievable that it’s got to this state.”

UNBELIEVABLE AND SHOCKING: Manchester Sleepout are still accepting donations after the event took place on Friday

Ms O’Sullivan was taking part along with three other colleagues, and the team of four had volunteered at The Booth Centre prior to the event, meeting those their money would help.

One of the four, 29-year-old Adam Hopwood, described the situation in Manchester as ‘shocking’.

“It’s really noticeable,” he said.

“I think it’s always been a problem, but it’s so visible now because of a lack of support networks because of cuts to funding.”

Waking up on Saturday morning, in spite of the previous night’s downpour, participants were met with a warm breakfast and a hot shower, a reality not shared with the hundreds of rough sleepers across Manchester.

Donations for The Manchester Sleepout are still being taken, and if money cannot be spared then food, socks, toiletries and underwear are always welcomed by the centre.

Asked what the one thing people could do to help homeless people in the city was, Ms Hinks explained that ‘talknig to people’ is the key.

“Acknowledge people when you see a homeless person,” she said.

“They’re just people like you and I. 

“If you can do nothing else, just offer a smile and a hello, and that’s it. Recognise them as people who have just hit a bit of a hard time and need a bit of support.”

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