Good ‘customer service’ key to tackling homeless, says Manchester charity worker standing for change

A frustrated charity worker running for Manchester City Council says homelessness can only be eradicated in the city centre if agencies improve their customer service.

Nick Buckley, from Castlefield, is standing as an independent for election on  May 3 in the new Deansgate ward, in the hope that he can ‘tweak the engines of the machine’ and get council homeless services to run better via a multi-agency approach. 

His five-point manifesto, launched this week, pledges to ‘ensure all agencies and services are rated on customer service standards and that agencies work together to achieve ‘the best outcome for an individual’.

Nick told MM: “When I asked homeless people what they wanted me to do if I got elected, I expected things like a house or drug treatment. I thought they would ask for very tangible things but hardly anybody did.

“Actually there’s a feeling amongst rough sleepers that they are secondary to the agency and the job that person is doing.

“They feel that the second they say what they need – and that’s not what that agency deals with, it’s ‘oh, you don’t fit my criteria bye-bye’.”

ELECTION: Nick is running as an independent for the Deansgate ward

Nick has over ten years’ experience working with rough sleepers and runs the homeless charity Change4Good, which last year got almost 50 people into accommodation.

However he said that after evaluating the project on Boxing Day, he decided the only way homelessness in Manchester city centre could truly be eradicated was by improving the way mainstream agencies (that is, those provided by the council and not small charities) worked. 

Nick explained: “For every one person we took off the streets two people turned up, which made me realise that unless we can get the council to do a better job, all the small charities are wasting their time. 

“That’s the reason why I am standing, to improve the council, not to blame or criticise them but to get inside to improve the council and the services they offer.”

MANIFESTO: Nick’s outlined how to tackle the problem

Last year it was revealed that homelessness increased by 300% in Manchester city centre between 2013 and 2017, and Manchester City Council do not deny the problem exists.

Services offered by the council include temporary accommodation, social housing and support with debt and health issues, but Nick says that this specialised approach has led to a lack of co-ordination between areas of help available. 

Of his manifesto, he told MM: “It’s about holding all the agencies to account around a table and having somebody in charge that says ‘we’re going to look for solutions for this’ and ‘I don’t want excuses or a poor service, if you don’t do your job properly I’m going to your boss’.”

Nick added that he could see from his own charity work that agencies were not giving people on the streets ‘the customer service they need’.

RISING: Homelessness has shot up by 300%

He told MM about one man who, after months of persuasion by Change4Good, had finally agreed to go to the town hall to find accommodation through Manchester City Council, only to be questioned in different queues for five and a half hours without even being provided with a cup of water.

“Why does it take that to help a vulnerable, distressed person living on the streets of the city centre to get into accommodation? Where’s the customer service in that whole process?” Nick argued.

Nick, who has previously worked for Manchester City Council as a Community Safety Manager, said he chaired multi-agency meetings in that role and knows how effective they can be.

Other points in Nick’s manifesto, which was dawn up in consultation with homeless people, include that those on the streets are found sooner, helped quicker, treated with respect and not given up on.

The charity worker said that many rough sleepers felt they didn’t get information about the help they could access quick enough, that people trying to help spoke down to them and that members of the public presume they know what homeless people want without asking.

Heartbreakingly, one man told Nick that he was treated ‘better than a rat’, because whereas rats have to climb through bins to find scraps, people give him theirs so he doesn’t have to.

Nick said: “This topic from the outside seems really easy. We have homeless people, if we had homes for them there’d be no more homeless people [but] it isn’t as simple as that. 

“These people have complex lives and there’s drug and alcohol issues.

“We need the agencies working better, that’s how we’re going to solve this problem”.  

Nick added that he’s had a positive response to his campaign so far, but that his views haven’t always been popular.

He explained that people on social media have accused his charity of being a ‘nasty charity’ that wants people on the streets to ‘starve to death’. 

But Nick said: “I don’t care if it’s unpopular the things I do if it’s getting people on the streets into accommodation. I just care about our citizens and the people on the streets who are living in squalor.

“We all look at them and we all feel sorry for them and we wish that somebody could do something about it and then we all walk on by.

“But doing the same thing we’ve been doing for years and watching the problem increase every month isn’t the answer – we need something different here.”

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