Manchester is rightly famous for a lot of incredible things; be it The Smiths, Joy Division, OASIS, rain, the Hacienda, or Liam Gallagher they are the characteristics that make up the ever-growing city. One characteristic, however, does not receive a similar amount of limelight. Nor does it break into the agenda for dinner-party discussions, despite how it could neatly fit in-between politics and dessert. Every city is the same and every city “deals” with the problem, though it remains one of the biggest issues that the world faces and yet one of the most disregarded topics. Homelessness is a modern day barometer of how the societies and authoritative structures in which we live can slowly pull the ground out from under anyone’s feet. Whilst I understand that the issue is universal, I will explicitly be writing about Manchester and what I have discovered about homelessness in the city.
For the past few weeks I have been working closely with a Manchester based charity that helps to provide crucial support to under 25 year olds in a range of different ways. Homelessness is continuously growing across the world, and without charities such as Lifeshare the issue would be extremely worse. Everyday the charity helps to find housing, helps with benefits, helps to find jobs, and offers constant support to anyone who needs it. After my first visit to the charity my whole mindset around homelessness and around the people who experience it was transformed. Through my interviews with people and hearing the stories that they have to tell, I have been shown a world of lives that is completely unknown to those who do not experience it. However, what I have found most significant is the unknown nature of homelessness itself, and as simple as it sounds, how homelessness is still an issue.
To many of us, homelessness is just, simply, homelessness; there is not much thought given to the subject past that point. When most people see a homeless person sitting in the street they do not think much of it. The kinder among us might feel sympathetic for that person, they might even buy them a coffee, or the drunken student might even give them the 2 slices of pizza they have left after a night at 42s throwing their student loan around. The fact is, whether or not we give that human sitting in the street a coffee or loose change we still do not question it. We do not think to ourselves why is this still a problem that our society faces? We accept it as part of life, part of a city, and part of the street. However, it may sound simple but I personally think it is overlooked; homelessness is a result of something, something has happened to that fellow member of society for them to then become homeless. That person was not assigned the role of homeless person number 12 for Market Street, their homelessness is the result of a life that has led them to being homeless. Understanding this is the first step into treating homeless people as people, as humans, and not as a fragment of the scenery that makes up your peripheral vision as you keep your eyes straight and try not to make eye contact with them. The stories I have heard range from beginning with abuse to running away from home to being kicked out. Most share a common feature to their stories: the fundamental lack of support from those who have the capabilities to help them.
Child support services, charities, schools, the government; they all have been condemned on numerous occasions by the people I have spoken to. For some, child services exacerbated the issues their families were going through, forcing relationships to deteriorate and eventually leading up to family members leaving, and without any further support they are gradually forced into a life of homelessness. For others, their schools or colleges kicked them aside when they found out they were homeless, treating them as “crazy” or as “crackheads”. A headmaster even said to one boy, “go have a wash, you stink”, and gave him a shower pass. The support from these institutions vary from person to person, though what seems to be universal is the lack of care and support from the police and the government. Every story that I have heard has included a strong sense of a lack of responsibility and human understanding from the police and the government towards homelessness. On a daily basis those sleeping rough will be moved repeatedly from doorway to alley to doorway to wherever they can try to get some sleep without being disrupted. Everyday many people are given anti-social behaving orders for sitting in doorways, for smoking a joint, for drinking out of a bottle in an area you aren’t allowed to do so. What I find so paradoxical is that society, the police, and the government will happy exclude homeless people from society, keeping them separate from the functions of our cities and towns, but they will still punish them for the same reasons members of society get punished. Why is it that a middle-aged man in the pub who has been drinking since lunch, on his fifth pack of Scampi Fries, can drunkenly sexually harass the woman working behind the bar, and no one bats and eyelid. But when a homeless person is drinking in the street or having a joint in order to numb the pain of sleeping in a doorway and to make sleeping on concrete that much more comfortable the world spits on them, calls them disgusting, moves them, but more importantly, does not care. We have to be honest with ourselves and our government, the people who have the power to do something about homelessness do not care about the homeless. If the government really did want to solve the growing issue of homelessness it would be eradicated in under a year. Sure, raise the issue of funding or the lack of money that the government has and let the homeless stay homeless, but it’s ok because we will be able to get from London to Birmingham just over 10 minutes faster than we can now, right? It’s ok because we will still have an ever-growing defence budget, right? It’s ok because at least the government would rather spend their money funding countries such as Saudi Arabia who decapitate people for being gay, right?
Homelessness is not an issue that is fixed with sleeping bags, pot noodles, or 34p and a cigarette, it will only be fixed with the combination of housing and genuine support for those who need it. Charities and the government nowadays are shocked at how some of the homeless might spend the money they are given in a day on drink or drugs, but what would you do? Can you really blame them? Most of the homeless know that they are going to get fed that day, and let’s be honest the £2.40 that you felt great about giving is not going to buy them a fucking house, is it? One of the men I interviewed, Tommy, rightly said that the homeless get given sleeping bags to sleep on the streets, they get given food to eat on the streets, cigarettes to smoke on the streets, clothes to keep them warm on the streets, but until they are taken off of the streets all that they will ever be is homeless. Homelessness is a funded lifestyle, a lifestyle that everyone that I have spoken to wants to get out of, a lifestyle that can lead to addictions, a lifestyle that can lead to crime, a lifestyle that can lead to being assaulted, raped, or even murdered. Until people understand the nature of homelessness, and how there is nothing being done that will actually ameliorate the situation, homelessness will do nothing but grow.
The first issue of Light It Up, “The Bigger Issue”, will be an insight into the lives and stories that some of the homeless in Manchester have to tell. The goal is to show the true nature of homelessness and the experiences that these people have been through. Without projects like these homelessness will remain a part of the cities and part of life, but that does not have to be the case.