Manchester has a major homelessness problem. Before I moved to Manchester, I had a preconceived notion about homelessness, that it was the result of addiction and that mental illness prevented integration. These notions, however, oversimplified the issues into a single problem. Having been involved in an extreme poverty charity during my entire stay in Manchester, I have met many individuals, each with distinct issues and needs, who have challenged my perceptions on homelessness. In this article, I will share a few stories of the people I have met, omitting names for their sake, to help provide a picture of the issues faced by the people on the streets.
The Man With A Dog
One of the first people I met, even before I really began volunteering with dedication, was a middle-aged gentleman with a dog. He himself had little to possess, while he had a lot of food and supplies to take care of his dog. I sat down next to him to have a conversation about his issues, and he told me that most people are very generous to his dog, and that he uses the little money he gets to feed his dog first.
Several years before his wife had died, and he spiraled into alcohol addiction. He stopped caring about work, stopped paying his bills, and was simply unable to cope with the depression of losing the most important person in his life. He ended up on the streets with his dog, and only then did he begin to realise he had a problem. He sobered himself up on the streets.
He told me about one time that he was in his sleeping bag at night, and a group of teenagers decided to set him on fire as a joke. He did not believe that he would see help from others, and had to make the best of what he had.
The few times he was offered a way out, he was told that he could not let his dog live with him. Having lost the most important person in his life once, to do it again would be too high a price to pay. He was not able to do it.
The Man Who Was Abused
Not too long after, I met another man, who was bruised across his body and quite frail as a result. He was quite scared of me at first, but he had a friend with him, who had previously been homeless, who was now supporting him in getting better. I asked him about his story, and he told me he wanted the world to know.
He was in touch with the council and the hospital, who were supporting him as a result of his fragile condition, but they were unable to offer him immediate aid. He was divorced, and had four kids who he had not seen in years, their names all tattooed across his arms. He could not bear to see them without a roof over his head, the shame would be too great.
He had to move from place to place, never sleeping in the same place twice as he had a stalker who came and attacked with a crowbar. It all began when he was given a cell phone by a charity, who wanted to help him keep track of his appointments with a housing association. When he was spotted by a street gang with the phone he was brutally attacked and mugged.
His friend who had gotten off the street through that same charity was keeping him in touch and providing him with support. When I asked why he could not stay at his friend’s, I was informed of rules in place at the flat against visitors, which meant they would both be on the streets as a result. The constant muggings had made him deeply distrustful of others, and it took him quite a while to become comfortable with me.
I have run into the man several time since, keeping track of his progress, and seeing him develop greater hope each time, knowing that he will one day be able to see his kids again. The last time I met him, he told me he was one week away from being admitted into a home for rehabilitation, and that his worries will finally be over.
The Young Father
A young man I met had a great deal of hope despite his situation. He told me that his girlfriend, with whom he had a baby girl, had kicked him out after a fight they had, and turned his family against him. He was on the streets for only a little bit, but was unable to receive support from the council due to a criminal record, having gotten into a bar fight when he was 18.
I directed him to other agencies, such as Barnabas and the Booth Centre, which can help advocate on his behalf, for which he was quite grateful. He took a photo out of his backpack of his daughter, a gorgeous, angelic looking little baby. He told me he knew it was all going to be ok because he will do whatever it takes to see here again.
While I have not seen him again, I can only assume a young man such as himself had the support of friends to get back on his feet.
He had to move from place to place, never sleeping in the same place twice as he had a stalker who came and attacked him with a crowbar
Some may see it harder to sympathise with the young and homeless, but to be in that situation at such an age does require something vital to go very wrong. The young and struggling usually fail to take advantage of the plethora of services available to them, simply because they have never been informed of them, or nobody takes their case seriously. This itself presents a huge barrier to care for those most desperately in need.
The numerous cases of those being evicted by shady landlords, either who stole their money or who put them in unlivable conditions, all have a more direct, albeit inefficient, route back into accommodation. A man who I have met almost daily for the last few months, is waiting on the council’s support, though the backlog of housing claims prevents quick aid. Those who do not have friends or relatives to support them while they wait have nowhere else to turn but the streets.
Some cases get more complicated, especially when people leave their homes before reporting the issues to the council. Especially among younger people on the streets, who were either abused by their landlord, or asked to live in houses with faulty electrical wiring, the support is minimal. To them, living on the streets was preferable to where they were before; to the council, they willingly made themselves homeless.
Some stories, especially those of the long-term homeless, or of the single women on the streets, are too disturbing to share in such an article. The pain faced by some of the people living on the streets is so gut-wrenching, it does not become hard to see why rehabilitation from the PTSD they are likely to develop seems impossible. It also helps to shed light on the high rate of drug addiction and alcoholism on the streets, even among those who did not have these problems prior to their current situation. There is no more painful experience than the look of absolute despair in someone’s eyes when they say that they can longer cope, that they would rather end their life. There is also no greater relief than seeing them regain their hope when you have offered them support.
It is my opinion that the issue of homelessness will never be solved. This is because it is not a problem unto itself, it is the consequence of various unique and complex problems, each more difficult than the last to address. If the government does something to solve someone’s problems, it creates a crack through which others will fall.
It is a fallacy among many commentators to say that the rate of homelessness in the modern, developed world is uniquely high, since the issue of poverty has existed throughout human history. As modernity has come upon us, we have traded the classical causes of poverty, such as famine, for more complex issues, such as drug addiction. The greater complexity of issues makes a blanket solution to homelessness not even a remote possibility; though that does not mean that nothing can be done.
One of the things I share with all volunteers who join the charity I work at, is that we are not there to solve homelessness, but to give dignity. To search for a solution to homelessness will be in vain, to search for the solution to a homeless man’s problems will bear much fruit. To care for each individual’s condition, and their unique reasons for their situation, is the only way to target their issues head on, and provide the long term aid needed. TMM
For more information on our writer Ryan’s charity work, including how to join, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or join his charity’s Facebook group SVP MUSCC