The following is the last instalment of Mark’s week spent on the streets of Manchester, here he reflects on his experience.
My week out on the streets was the longest and most challenging week of my life. Certain experiences I had made me realise just how difficult and dangerous it can be for the guys who live their lives out on the street. Almost everything seems to go against you when your homeless from people to the weather, and I’m sure there is a lot more happening on the streets than what I was able to see. A few things stood out and surprised me during my time out there. The first was how the guys are treated by the police. I’m quite sure somewhere between them not allowing me to take shelter from the rain and telling me to go somewhere I couldn’t be seen, my basic human rights were denied me. Why did they not want me to be seen? Were they just doing their jobs? Are we ashamed of homeless people or are we moving them out of sight so we don’t have to acknowledge the fact that it is a problem? Out of sight out of mind perhaps? It kind of reminded me of a child that has been told to tidy his room and shoving all his mess in to the wardrobe or under his bed, which is fine because the room looks clean and tidy but it’s only a matter of time before it spills back out and that’s the same with homelessness. Forcing them underground and in to the back alleys might make it appear that everything is well and that homelessness is decreasing but the truth is it’s not and the sooner the appropriate people realise that and put some structured plans into action the sooner we CAN then say it is a problem that is getting better rather than getting worse. The suggestion that we should have more night shelters available was an interesting one. Although they wouldn’t solve the issue of homelessness they would certainly ease the number of rough sleepers on our streets at night. One of the potential problems that was put to me regarding this was that a night shelter might not really encourage rough sleepers to actually make some positive moves to getting themselves off the street because they would have accommodation to go to each night. But that’s a very minor problem that could be solved with a little encouragement and a nudge in the right direction. Alcohol and substance abuse are other problems that would potentially arise but again with the correct risk management strategies in place it’s something that could be controlled and is not an excuse to completely say no to night shelters. If they are run in the correct way, with the right people running them I’m sure the council would find them more of a help than a hindrance. My overall experience of my week out was not a pleasant one and to be honest I never expected it to be but at the same time it was worse than what I was expecting. Just in terms of how long the days are, it was incredible….Time literally seems to stand still out there. Then you have the issue of how you are looked at, thought of and treated by other people which in most cases is like rubbish. I had a real feeling of irrelevance. Homeless people don’t live they just exist. As I noted in my diary I really can understand why so many street homeless people turn to drink and drugs, although I’m not saying it’s the answer to there problems and I agree with it, it certainly seems to be the only real comfort that they are getting which really is a shame. The thing is that when we allow people to become street homeless they are greatly increasing the risk that they will develop an addiction which in turn creates another problem regarding getting them off the street. It’s then not a case of just re-housing them, they then need detox and various other forms of support because they need to learn all over again how to cope with everyday situations without having to turn to substances to help them deal with certain issues that may arise, and again it is incredibly difficult to get in to rehabilitation centres so that means that if they are re-housed they can often bring their problems off the streets with them into their new place of residence which obviously would mean they would have a greater chance of having problems with neighbours and landlords and facing eviction and the possibility of ending up on the streets again. It’s difficult. There are no easy solutions and homelessness will not be erased over night but I think we can and should be doing more to prevent it happening in the first place and helping those who are already out there living third world lives in one of the most rich and powerful countries in the world. Manchester is a beautiful and vibrant city but it has problems, and a side that nobody wants to see. So if that’s case the lets make it a problem that no longer exists then it really won’t be there for anyone to see.